After getting three straight aces, the Philadelphia Phillies flopped a joker last night, as Cole Hamels was pounded by the New York Mets last night in Citizen's Bank Park.
The Mets tagged Hamels for six runs on seven hits and chased him after just 2 2/3 innings. Hamels fell to 2-9 in 14 career starts against the Mets.
Much has been made of the Phillies' "Phab Phour" heading into this season and rightfully so.
A rotation of Roy Hallday, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels certainly brings with it high expectations. But with those expectations comes the risk of disappointment, which the Philly Phaithful tasted last night.
As Hamels walked off the mound, he was booed viciously by the 127th consecutive sell out crowd.
Today, the word being used to describe Hamels isn't "ace," but rather "inconsistent."
Could Hamels also be described as trade bait?
Hamels entered this season in the final year of the three-year, $20.5 million contract he signed in January 2009. Last offseason, the market for starting pitching was barren. The New York Yankees and Texas Rangers each found themselves competing for the services of Cliff Lee.
Higher and higher the money went, each team trying to find that golden ticket that would land Lee. The Rangers tried to appease the lefty with visits to his home in Arkansas, while the Yankees did as they always do and kept adding zeros to their checks.
But in the end, it was the chance to join Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels in Philadelphia that won the Phillies Lee, creating the so-called "Phab Phour."
But the great offseason the Phillies had also came with a price. They lost a right-handed bat, Jayson Werth, to the Washington Nationals. Top prospect Dominic Brown was expected to win the right field job, but a broken hand in spring training landed him on the DL.
Throw in an injury to second baseman Chase Utley, who still shows no signs of returning, and the Phillies find themselves in a tough spot.
They don't have the farm system to fill these holes at the major league level, having dumped their farm system to land Halladay and Oswalt, and they don't have the money to sign any useful free agents or take on the contract of a guy like Michael Young.
Despite a 3-1 start to the season and a tie for first place in the NL East, the Phillies are not without their weaknesses.
On the occasions when their starting pitching doesn't come through, as it didn't last night and partially in their season opener with Halladay on the mound, their bullpen isn't a strength.
Closer Brad Lidge is on the DL and Ryan Madson is better suited to pitch the eighth inning than the ninth. With that in mind, the blueprint to beat the Phillies should be chase their starter early, as the Mets did last night, and get into their bullpen.
Or keep the game close and make it a bullpen battle, a battle which a team like the Atlanta Braves would love to have.
Additionally, though the loss of Utley actually allows the Phillies to work another right-handed bat into their lineup, they'd rather have Utley back. If that happens, they'll be more vulnerable to left-handed pitching than they already are.
So in order to fortify their weaknesses, the Phillies should draw from their strengths. Namely the starting rotation and specifically Cole Hamels.
As thin as the last offseason was for starting pitching, it's even worse next year. C.J. Wilson, Joel Piniero and Mark Buehrle are the biggest names available, and there are going to be plenty of teams fighting over them, and someone is going to be left out in the cold.
Hamels is in need of a new contract, and his inconsistency over the last few seasons leaves his value in doubt. A bad season would make bringing him back a tough decision for the Phillies, while a great season could price them out.
Is Hamels worth the five-year, $120 million contract the Phillies gave Lee?
Hamels is just 27 years old and already has six years of big league experience. He's won a World Series and a World Series MVP. A five-year contract would take him to age 32, still within the prime years for a lefty.
And though the Phillies have the expiring contracts of Raul Ibanez and Jimmy Rollins to look forward to, and they may not pick up the options on Lidge or Oswalt, they also have big raises coming to Lee and Ryan Howard.
In 2012, the Phillies will have nine players guaranteed $110.5 million, not including a contract for Hamels, or the $16 million mutual option for Oswalt or the $12.5 million team option for Lidge.
Throw in the state of their farm system and the Phillies may have a hard time filling every spot to their liking.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will have to chose between taking on a massive payroll full of aging players or allow Oswalt, Lidge, Rollins and Ibanez to become free agents, leaving their roster in shambles.
Trading Hamels midseason might seem like a big risk, but he would fetch a hetfy price and land the Phillies some much-needed prospects.
A team like the Yankees would drool over a chance to land Hamels. The Yankees have several top pitching prospects in their organization, and Hamels would land the Phillies any one of them. Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Adrew Brackman are all close to major league ready and all looked impressive in spring training for the Yankees.
Having one of those three to slot into the Phillies rotation for 2012 would not only give the Phillies a great starting pitcher at a low cost, but infuse some youth into a rotation that already has four pitchers over the age of 30.
In any trade for Hamels, the Phillies should target right-handed prospects of either the infield or outfield variety, or both ideally.
Dealing Hamels would be a very difficult decision and doing so would probably be met with outrage from the Philly fans. But they already seemed pretty outraged as they booed and jeered Hamels last night.
Trading one strength to improve multiple weaknesses could be the right long-term decision for the Phillies.