Cole Hamels is a very rich man after Wednesday, signing one of the biggest MLB contracts for a pitcher in history.
PHILADELPHIA — Cole Hamels knew the moment he walked off the mound to a standing ovation after allowing five runs in his last start that he was staying with the Philadelphia Phillies.
“Words can’t really describe the emotions that you get, and the way the fans were standing and cheering, that was ultimately the deciding point to be here,” Hamels said.
He had $144 million other reasons to stay, too.
Hamels on Wednesday signed a six-year contract worth an average of $24 million per season that prevents the 2008 World Series MVP from becoming a free agent in November. The deal includes a club vesting option for 2019 and a limited no-trade provision.
The contract is the largest signed by a Philadelphia athlete and second-highest for a pitcher behind the $161 million, seven-year deal the New York Yankees gave CC Sabathia in December 2008.
“It was long and laborious,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said about negotiations, which started last May. “We finally got to the finish line. (Six years) is unprecedented for the Phillies, but we did it with the right person.”
The 28-year-old Hamels becomes the third Phillies starter making $20 million per season, joining Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. A three-time All-Star, Hamels passed up an opportunity to possibly get more money on the open market to stay with the team that drafted him in 2002.
“I wanted to give the Phillies every opportunity,” Hamels said. “It’s very hard to leave a place that you’ve had so many great memories. You don’t want to miss it and not be a part of it. I know the organization has always done a good job of going out to win. We have great players here. You don’t want to have to leave that or stray away and see them win and you’re not part of it.
“I understand that free agency is great, those opportunities of the unknowing. But this is the place that I call home and want to call home for a really long time. I grew up watching Tony Gwynn play and he made San Diego his home for his entire career. That’s ultimately what I want to make here in Philadelphia.”
Hamels is 11-4 with a 3.23 ERA this season. The lanky lefty is 85-58 with a 3.38 ERA in seven years in Philadelphia. Hamels has never won more than 15 games in a season, and his 2.79 ERA in 2011 was the only time he was under 3.06.
Still, the Phillies were willing to pay big bucks to make sure they didn’t lose a fan favorite.
“The reality is this is a commodity we know very well,” team president David Montgomery said. “We know Cole as a talent. We know Cole as a competitor. We know Cole as his character and what he and Heidi have done as far as his foundation is concerned. We knew all along he was the right fit for Philadelphia.”
Signing Hamels means the Phillies could potentially have $155 million committed to just 11 players for 2013. Montgomery said the team would consider exceeding the luxury tax threshold for the first time.
“We may very well need to do that to do the right things on the field,” he said.
The Phillies had the second-highest payroll behind the New York Yankees at $174 million on opening day. But the five-time defending NL East champions are stuck in last place after battling key injuries and inconsistency this season.
With the non-waiver trade deadline looming, there’s been speculation the Phillies could be sellers. That’s not necessarily the case.
The Phillies have played better since the All-Star break, have all their regulars back and hope to make a run. They began the day 9½ games behind in the wild-card standings.
“We’re committed to winning and trying to improve whether it’s through the course of this deadline and beyond that,” Amaro said.
Securing Hamels was the first step.
“We felt like it was the right thing to do under the circumstance with his performance, his age, his importance with our club,” Amaro said. “Our goal is to continue to be a championship-caliber team, for now and the future. As I’ve said before, I think we have a much better chance with Cole as a major part of our rotation than without him.”
Hamels reached the majors in 2006 after battling injuries in the minors. He went 15-5 with a 3.39 ERA in his first full season in 2007, establishing himself as the team’s ace and helping the Phillies win the first of five consecutive NL East titles.
He was the team’s ace in ’08 when he went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five postseason starts. Hamels was MVP of the NLCS against Los Angeles and helped the Phillies beat Tampa Bay in five games for their second World Series title in franchise history.
But Hamels struggled in 2009.
He was just 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA that year, and pitched poorly in the postseason as the Phillies tried for a repeat. Hamels was passed over for veteran Pedro Martinez to start Game 2 of the World Series at hostile Yankee Stadium. Hamels then blew a 3-0 lead in a pivotal loss in Game 3, and New York took the series in six games.
Following the additions of Halladay and Lee, Hamels went from ace to No. 3 starter. He began 2011 as the No. 4 starter behind Halladay, Lee and Roy Oswalt. There’s no doubt that Hamels is the team’s best pitcher this season — and now richest, too. Halladay is 4-5 and Lee is 1-6.
“Having Doc and Cliff is a big part of why I wanted to be here,” Hamels said. “To have two of the best pitchers in baseball, you can learn a lot from them and feed off them. When we get rolling, I feel no one can stop us.”
A-ROD HEADED TO DL:
SEATTLE — With Alex Rodriguez headed for the disabled list and possibly out into September, Eric Chavez will get his chance to prove to the New York Yankees that his injury problems are in the past and he can be an everyday position player again.
That’s not to say Yankees manager Joe Girardi won’t be closely monitoring the injury-prone Chavez.
“You just have to be smart about it and know that he’s had some ailments that he’s had to deal with over his career. He’s had a back issue and a shoulder issue and you just have to watch him,” Girardi said before Wednesday’s series finale against the Seattle Mariners. “I told him, I said if you feel something I have to know. Let’s not get to a point where you really break down and then we lose you for a substantial amount of time.”
Rodriguez was being fitted for a splint by Seattle’s team doctors on Wednesday morning, ahead of his return to New York and examination by Yankees physicians, likely on Thursday. Rodriguez sustained a non-displaced fracture of his left hand when he was hit by an 88 mph changeup from Felix Hernandez in the eighth inning Tuesday night.
For now, the Yankees intend to use a combination of Chavez and Jayson Nix to fill Rodriguez’s spot at third, with the possibility of Ramiro Pena providing some extra flexibility for Girardi. Pena was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday after Rodriguez was placed on the 15-day disabled list.
Another option could be Eduardo Nunez, who played in 112 games at various positions for the Yankees last season. He was sent down to the minors in May and almost immediately was sidelined by a thumb injury. He rejoined Class A Tampa on Monday and was en route to Scranton on Wednesday.
Chavez’s start Wednesday was his 25th at third base this year and his 65th game overall. He has not played more than 100 games in a season since playing 137 with Oakland in 2006. Since then, he’s been slowed by shoulder, back, foot and neck injuries.
“Whatever he asks me to do I’ll give it my best shot,” Chavez said late Tuesday night.
Chavez knows what Rodriguez is about to face. Chavez sustained nearly the same injury during the 2004 season and missed five weeks. He still managed to play 125 games at third base for Oakland that season and hit .276 with 29 homers. Chavez was significantly better after the injury that season, hitting .295 over the final 76 games after returning on July 9.
There’s no guarantee Rodriguez, who has struggled for much of the season, will have the same improvement.
Rodriguez has been durable this season after failing to play at least 150 games since 2007. He had played in all but three of the Yankees’ 97 games this year after playing just 99 last season.
But A-Rod’s production has fallen way off. He was hitting just .274 with 15 homers and 44 RBIs entering Tuesday’s game, although he was hitting .328 over his last 16 games.
Rodriguez joins a lengthy injury list that includes Mariano Rivera, Michael Pineda, Joba Chamberlain, Andy Pettitte and Brett Gardner. The Yankees felt the need to replace what they lost in Gardner by trading with Seattle to acquire Ichiro Suzuki.
The Yankees appeared to be done with any big moves before the non-waiver trade deadline in a week. For now, New York is hoping Chavez can be the bridge until Rodriguez returns, likely in late August or September.
“We’re going to miss him. But we’ve had some other guys who have went down that have been … guys like Alex and we have found a way to replace them,” Girardi said. “We’re going to have to do it again until he gets back.”