As the Philadelphia Phillies' offseason breaks into the new year and heads for the homestretch, the team has little left to accomplish. They've already taken care of all their top priorities—they've re-signed Jimmy Rollins, added a power bat off the left side in Jim Thome, found a versatile, slugging backup in Ty Wigginton and have strengthened their outfield depth by signing Laynce Nix.
Not to mention, the Phils have also bolstered their bullpen by adding All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon and (possible) lefty specialist Dontrelle Willis.
However, arguably the biggest question mark of the Phillies' offseason still looms among the team's current uncertainties, and that is whether or not Cole Hamels will receive a contract extension sometime before the start of the 2012 season.
Hamels, who is slated to become the best left-handed starting pitcher and perhaps the best overall starter on the open market next offseason, could make upwards of $100 million should he reach free agency after the 2012 season. It's now GM Ruben Amaro, Jr.'s job to take care of business and do whatever he can to lock up Hamels for the most affordable contract possible.
Speaking of the Phillies' ace starting pitchers, Roy Oswalt is currently a free agent and his chances of re-signing in Philadelphia are presently slim to none. It rekindles the fire that was set off last offseason when Cliff Lee returned to Philly—the team had four ace starters, the best starting rotation in baseball and possibly even the best rotation of all time.
Fans and media reporters alike wondered how long the "Four Aces," or "R2C2," would last. Well, it looks like right now it will have lasted only one year, and the urgency to keep Hamels under contract becomes even more dire with a decrease in starting pitching depth following the seemingly inevitable departure of Oswalt.
It also begs the question as to how long the trio of Halladay, Lee and Hamels, three of the top five finishers in the 2011 NL Cy Young Award voting, will last.
Should Hamels not receive or turn down a contract extension offer from the Phillies, the likelihood of him returning shrinks significantly upon reaching free agency.
In this slideshow, we'll examine all possibilities of how long the current top of the Phillies rotation could last, and we'll make a prediction for each of the three starting pitchers and speculate how long they (and the trio itself) could remain in Phillies' pinstripes.
Ever since Roy Halladay waived his no-trade clause to come to Philadelphia before the 2010 season, he has been one of baseball's most dominant starting pitchers.
When he accepted his trade to come to the City of Brotherly Love and signed his three-year, $60 million extension after the 2009 season, Halladay made it clear that he chose Philadelphia because he believed that the team, which had appeared in the last two World Series, had the best chance to win a World Championship of any team in baseball, and he wanted to be a part of it.
Doc turned down the potential opportunity to collect over $100 million via free agency after the 2010 season just so he could spend an extra season with a contender, and he took a deep discount to do so.
Already a force to be reckoned with, Halladay added to his showcase in his first season as a Phillie by pitching a perfect game, a postseason no-hitter and racking up 21 regular season wins en route to winning the National League Cy Young Award, the second Cy Young of his career.
In 2011, Halladay was just as good, posting a 19-6 record with a 2.35 ERA and 220 strikeouts, the latter two being career bests. He placed second in the NL Cy Young voting last year to Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, winner of the NL pitching Triple Crown.
There's little stopping Doc right now, and next year should be just as good, if not better, than the last. He just seems to get better as he ages, and he should continue to be one of baseball's premier starting pitchers for the next few years. It wouldn't even be a surprise to see Halladay win another Cy Young or even pitch another no-hitter during the remainder of his Phillies tenure.
Roy Halladay has thoroughly enjoyed his time in Philadelphia. He's become a fan favorite thanks to his incredible work ethic and passionate desire to win. Considering that he has yet to get the ring he covets, Halladay will continue to work hard and attempt to lead his team to another World Series championship.
Even if he doesn't win his ring before his current contract expires after the 2013 (or 2014) season, he'll feel compelled to retire a Phillie should the team still be a contender in three years or so.
Halladay will retire a Philadelphia Phillie. While he may not earn his Fall Classic ring before the end of his current contract, he'll wish to continue to play for a contender, and assuming the Phillies remain one for the next few years, there's no reason Doc won't call it a career in a Phillies uniform.
My guess is that he'll call 2015 his last season and whether he wins a World Series ring or not, he'll at least be able to say that he pitched six great seasons for a team that had a will to win as great as his own. But for all intents and purposes, let's hope he gets his ring.
Since rejoining the Phillies before last season, Cliff Lee has been better than ever.
Lee, who infamously spurned both the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees to return to Philadelphia during the 2010 offseason, had a career year in his first back with the Phils. He went 17-8 with a 2.35 ERA and 238 strikeouts, and like Halladay, the latter two were career bests.
While he didn't rack up as many wins as he did during his AL Cy Young campaign of 2008, Lee was arguably a better pitcher last season. He also hit two home runs.
Expressing his desire to return to the team he loved upon returning to Philly, Lee said that he "never wanted to leave in the first place" and that he felt that the team had the best chance to win it all.
Now the highest-paid Phillie at $21.5 million entering the second year of his five-year, $120 million pact, the lefty Lee should continue to dominate the National League, and it wouldn't be shocking to see him be a 20-game winner next year or even win an NL Cy Young Award as a Phillie by the end of his contract.
Cliff Lee has become the ultimate fan favorite in Philadelphia. Having the guts to spurn the powerhouse Yankees and openly express his love of playing in Philadelphia, a city where players stated their disgust of the team's lack of desire to win not too long ago, he easily won over the hearts of Phillies fans.
He wants a World Series ring just as much as Doc, yet unlike Halladay, he has more time—he's under contract through 2015 and possibly even 2016.
Bearing in mind that Lee's under contract through the 2015 season, he'll likely be here for a while, unless he unexpectedly gets dealt at some point of the duration of his contract (he has a limited no-trade clause).
Taking all that into account and adding to it the fact that he's adored by Philadelphians, whether baseball fans or not, he's an icon in Philly, and unless he retires after his contract runs its course following the 2015 or 2016 season, Lee very well could be a Phillie through 2017.
If the team should finally decide to go the route of remaining younger following the potential conclusion of Lee's contract after 2016, Lee could be re-signed to a one-year deal with incentives and retire after one final season. For that, we'll have to wait and see, but one thing's certain: Lee will be a Phillie for a long, long time.
Being the only homegrown pitcher of the Phillies' three aces, Cole Hamels is not only invaluable to the team because of what he brings to the table, but having a farm face representing the team demonstrates the Phils' ability to win from within the organization rather than importing it all off from players outside of it.
Hamels, the Phillies' 2008 NLCS and World Series MVP, has been a staple of the team's rotation since the 2006 season. Following his MVP awards during the Phillies' magical 2008 postseason run, Hamels was rewarded with a three-year, $20.5 million contract extension that kept him under team control at a reasonable price through the 2011 season. At the time, it was also the largest average annual value in a multi-year deal given to a pitcher eligible for arbitration for the first time.
While 2009 was not a season to remember for Hollywood Hamels, 2010 saw Hamels regain his control and lower his ERA to a respectable 3.06 from an ugly 4.32 the year before. 2011 was even better to the lefty, as he went 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA and 194 strikeouts. As a result of his efforts, Hamels placed fifth in the 2011 NL Cy Young voting.
Hamels is under team control for the final season of his pre-free agency years in 2012 and is due to earn a big raise from his $9.5 million salary in 2011 in arbitration unless he and the Phillies agree to a contract extension beforehand. Should he emerge as a Cy Young-caliber pitcher next year, he could earn over $100 million in the free agent market at the season's conclusion.
Cole Hamels is arguably the most valuable asset to this Phillies team. Being only 28 years old, he's not only the youngest of the Phillies' aces, but he has capability of becoming a Phillies legend.
If Hamels hypothetically signed for a five-year, $85 million extension (the same amount as Jered Weaver), he'd be under contract either through the 2016 or 2017 season, depending on when the deal took effect. Not only that, but he'd be only 33 years old going on 34 at the extension's conclusion, and he could a have a few good years left in him at that point. If the Phillies plan on going younger in a few years, Hamels could be the leader of a possible future youth movement.
Although my gut feeling isn't a positive one concerning the Phillies and Hamels striking a deal before the season, I do believe that the two sides will reach an agreement on a contract extension at some point before the season's end. Besides, Hamels wants to remain a Phillie beyond next season, as is evidenced by the following:
It's not really on my mind because I'm still locked in with the team, which I'm happy about. It'll work its way out. I'm just going to go out there and focus on pitching. I feel like I have a really good agent [John Boggs]. I hope he has a good relationship with [general manager] Ruben [Amaro Jr.] and they'll be able to work well together...You don't really think the grass is greener on the other side. This is the organization I've come up with. We're winning. Why would you ever want to leave? You want to be on a winning team, and the team wants to win.
Assuming that the Phillies fulfill Hamels' wishes and ink him to a contract extension of five years or more, there's little reason to believe that he won't be a Phillie beyond 2012. Despite Hamels being the Phillies' most prominent "what if" next year, GM Ruben Amaro knows that Hamels is a fan favorite and will do whatever it takes to keep him in Philadelphia beyond next year.
I'm confident that Amaro will have locked up Hamels at some point during the 2012 season, and I believe that he'll ink him through 2017.
We've taken a look at the Phillies' three aces' track records in Philadelphia and the reasons why they'll remain in Philadelphia. We've also observed each of Roy Halladay's, Cliff Lee's, and Cole Hamels' previous and/or current contract situations and what's in line for each of them in the future.
While it's practically impossible to predict each and every outcome with precision and accuracy, signs are pointing towards these three spectacular pitchers playing together for quite some time.
Let's review the predictions for each pitcher: Roy Halladay will be a Phillie through 2015, and Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels will pitch in Phillies pinstripes through the 2017 season, which means that the trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels anchoring the Phillies rotation would last through the 2015 season.
This would mean that the three aces would lead the Phils' starting rotation for five total seasons from 2011-2015. Hopefully, it'll last much, much longer than that, but speaking realistically, these three arms pitching for four more years in the City of Brotherly Love would be something special.