The Phillies deal with Cole Hamels is big. Really big. Like, the second largest contract to a pitcher in baseball history big. $144 million guaranteed, $161 million with a vesting option, the details of which are not known.
But here’s the question: can the Phillies really pull this off?
And by “this,” I mean the vast payroll outlays they have on the books. As of now, the Phillies owe $133 million in 2013 to only nine players. Add to that a $5 million option owned to Carlos Ruiz that they’ll certainly pick up. I would assume at this point that Hunter Pence will be dealt for payroll reasons, but if he isn’t and they want him around, he’s going to cost eight figures next year too. That’s a lot of money for less than half of an aging roster.
But is it too much? Maybe based on what we’re used to with baseball economics it is. But as we’ve noted several times recently, we’re in a new era now thanks to the skyrocketing value of local TV deals. The sort of which allowed the Angels to pay Albert Pujols what they paid him, with the difference being totally made up by the increase in their annual take from Fox. An increase, thanks in part, to the star power that they can put on TV each night.
So, you’re the Phillies: you’re filling the house every night and, in three years, you can expect to get a windfall in local TV bucks. If you don’t pay Cole Hamels that money and keep the team on perpetual win-now footing, are you able to reap that money? If you do reap it, is Cole Hamels’ deal all that bad?
As is always the case, it depends on the cast surrounding him. Is Roy Halladay beginning a decline? Is Chase Utley on his last leg? Is Ryan Howard going to level off and come close to justifying that deal? Where is the rest of the offense going to come from?
Those are the big questions about the Phillies’ prospects going forward. The same questions they’ve always had. The money owed to Cole Hamels, in some sense then, is not the biggest concern. Assuming he doesn’t go full-blown Zito on them, the investment in Hamels seems like the smallest risk they have.