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Monday, July 23, 2012
Pace of Cole Hamels talks to heat up

By Jerry Crasnick
ESPN.com

The Philadelphia Phillies and pitcher Cole Hamels' representatives expect to ramp up the pace of contract talks this week as they approach what a source said is a "sensitive" stage of negotiations.

The two sides took a brief hiatus over the weekend, as Hamels pitched against San Francisco on Saturday in Philadelphia and agent John Boggs was traveling. But people familiar with the situation said time is of the essence as the Phillies try to reach an agreement with the three-time All-Star. With only eight days left until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Phillies need to save themselves a window to re-engage with potential trade partners if they can't reach a deal with Hamels.

The Phillies have offered Hamels a six-year contract in the neighborhood of the $127.5 million extension that Matt Cain received from San Francisco in early April, according to sources, but Hamels has several items to consider as he contemplates whether to sign with the club.

Hamels has publicly expressed his fondness for playing in Philadelphia and his willingness to sign a long-term deal with the Phillies. He has even said he's open to returning to the Phillies as a free agent this offseason if the team trades him before the deadline.

But people close to Hamels said he was resigned to testing free agency until the Phillies put on a strong rush to re-sign him earlier this month, and part of him is intrigued by the thought of going on the open market and seeing what opportunities might await. Hamels conceded that was the case during a recent interview with Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia.

"Not everybody gets to experience free agency and if you have an option to do it, why not do it?" Hamels told Comcast SportsNet.

Later in the same interview, Hamels added, "Maybe it's just the human nature I have, but you always want to know what the unknown is and you're always searching for the unknown, and that's always going to be in the back of your head."

If Hamels explores free agency, a spirited bidding process could take him past Johan Santana's six-year, $137.5 million contract with the Mets, and he could approach CC Sabathia's seven-year, $161 million contract with the New York Yankees. Hamels is 11-4 with a 3.23 ERA this season and ranks fourth in the National League with 133 2/3 innings pitched, but it will be incumbent upon him to stay healthy over the next two months if he wants to maintain his value on the free-agent market. Although the risk of injury diminishes with each start, it's always a consideration for pitchers approaching free agency.

Hamels is a San Diego native, so the Los Angeles Dodgers have been mentioned as a prime candidate for his services if he becomes a free agent. Hamels' wife, Heidi, is from Missouri, so the St. Louis Cardinals could be a dark-horse suitor if he gets to free agency, sources said.

If Hamels doesn't reach an agreement this week and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is unable to trade him, it's still possible the Phillies could sign him in August or September. But there aren't many precedents for a player getting that close to free agency and reaching a deal. The most notable example came in 2007, when Carlos Zambrano signed a five-year, $91.5 million contract with the Cubs on Aug. 17 -- only six weeks before the end of the season.

A long-term deal for Hamels isn't the only item on Amaro's agenda this week. Entering Monday, the Phillies were 42-54 and 14 games out of first place in the National League East -- and 10½ games out in the wild-card standings -- so Amaro has an incentive to sell off other veteran pieces for young talent at the deadline. Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco, Joe Blanton and even Jimmy Rollins have been mentioned as Phillies trade candidates in recent speculation.