Phillies, Thinking Long Term, Are Right to Save Cole Hamels for the Home Opener

Josh FriedmanContributor IIIApril 8, 2012

Cole Hamels will take the mound for the Phils in Monday's home opener.
Cole Hamels will take the mound for the Phils in Monday's home opener.Len Redkoles/Getty Images

Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Vance Worley. Hmm, one of these players are not like the others. It should be Halladay, Lee and Cole Hamels, but the Philadelphia Phillies held Hamels out of the third spot in their rotation for the final game of their season-opening series in Pittsburgh so he could pitch Monday’s home opener at Citizens Bank Park.

Did the Phillies do this for their fans or for Hamels?

Perhaps for both.

Surely, the fans would rather see their A-list star toe the rubber for the first home game. Even though it’s only one of 81 home dates, the home opener takes on greater psychological importance. You want to start out on the right foot.

As for Hamels, it’s a sign from the organization that they care about their former No. 1 draft pick and 2008 NLCS and World Series MVP who, you may have heard, is in the final year of his contract.

The Phillies are acutely aware that last week the San Francisco Giants shelled out $112.5 million to Matt Cain for five years and the Los Angeles Dodgers' new owners may want to reassert themselves as the dominant team in the Los Angeles market by signing a marquee free agent.

Hamels is from San Diego. His wife has been on TV as a contestant on Survivor, so there is reason to wonder if the lefty may want to return to southern California.

The Hamels have put down some roots in the Delaware Valley in the form of charity, with their foundation contributing generously to Philadelphia schools. But beyond that, how can any city compete with the emotional pull of home?

While Phillies fans feel ownership of Hamels since he was drafted by the team and came up through the system, ownership knows that Hamels (28 years old) has a much longer shelf life than their two other ace pitchers, Halladay (35 next month) and Lee (34 in August).

As for comparisons to the 27-year-old Cain, who was selected eight spots after Hamels in the first round of the 2002 amateur draft, the numbers are strikingly similar except for W-L. Hamels: 74-54, 3.39 ERA, 1091 Ks, .237 BA, 10 CG. Cain: 69-73, 3.35 ERA, 1085 Ks, .227 BA, 13 CG (stats do not include Cain’s Sunday start).

So, yes, the Phillies can expect to write a huge check if they want to keep Hamels. But he’s proven that he’s worth it, even if paying him means paying Major League Baseball’s luxury tax.

Besides, Worley (6IP, 5H, 1R, 1ER, 1BB, 5K) pitched well enough to win on Sunday. Now if the Phillies can only buy themselves some middle relief.