By Barbara Harrison
The longest-running soap opera of the 2014-15 MLB off-season was the dance between the Phillies and the Boston Red Sox over:
What would the Sox offer for Phils’ ace lefty Cole Hamels?
Philly has one of the worst rosters in baseball and the farm system doesn’t have much in the form of non-pitching talent.
So, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who is one of the worst judges of talent on the planet, held out for the moon.
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington responded, “No thank you. We like our moon.”
So he concluded that the Red Sox don’t think there’s a need for Hamels and believe their starting five can do the job. Hamels, who will oppose Clay Buchholz in the opener this afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, will have a long year if he isn’t traded between now and the deadline because he’ll have the worst offense in baseball trying to score runs for him.
It was bad enough last year when his 2.46 ERA and 1.148 WHIP produced only a 9-9 record. He’s thrown 200-plus innings five straight seasons and six overall. He’s made 30 or more starts seven straight seasons. He’s 108-83 (.565) for his career, 7-4 with a 3.09 ERA in the postseason.
Last season he allowed three runs or fewer in his last 23 starts, a feat matched only by Clayton Kershaw.
Hamels has stopped talking about being traded after he told USA Today right before the start of spring training that he would be open to a deal to the Red Sox even though Boston is not on his trade list.
Hamels signed a six-year, $144 million extension after 2012. He has four years at $90 million remaining, and he likely would want an option year of $20 million picked up. Hamels remains the biggest bargain for an elite pitcher out there. Johnny Cueto, David Price, Jeff Samardzija, and Jordan Zimmermann all will cost considerably more when they hit free agency next offseason, and if they’re traded-for will cost significant prospects as well.
The reason some people don’t like Hamels for the Red Sox? His interleague record of 8-13 with a 4.54 ERA.
Of course the one American League team he does pitch well against? The Red Sox. He’s 4-0 with a 1.97 ERA in five starts vs. Boston.
On June 30, 2011, Hamels went four innings and allowed only two hits and no runs, but an Adrian Gonzalez liner off his glove hand resulted in his having to leave the game, or else he’d be 5-0.
Working in one of the best hitters parks in baseball in Citizens Bank, his ability to pitch well is even more magnified.
On June 16, 2008, he made his first start vs. Boston at Citizens Bank, going seven innings, allowing seven hits and two solo homers in an 8-2 Phillies win.
Hamels faced a lineup with Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, J.D. Drew, Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, Sean Casey, and Julio Lugo. Pedroia has definitely been Hamels’s Achilles’. In that game Pedroia went 3 for 4 and homered. Drew hit the other Boston solo homer.
On May 21, 2010, Hamels beat the Red Sox, 5-1, at Citizens Bank. He went seven innings, allowing three hits and one run with eight strikeouts and one walk. He faced a lineup with Marco Scutaro, Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis, Drew, Adrian Beltre, Bill Hall, and Darnell McDonald. Martinez had two hits, including a home run.
June 13 of that year, Hamels beat the Sox, 5-3, at Fenway Park. He went seven innings, allowing five hits and one run with two walks and eight strikeouts. Pedroia went 3 for 4 in a lineup that also featured Daniel Nava (2 for 4), Beltre (who homered), Scutaro, David Ortiz, and Lowell.
On May 18, 2012, Hamels beat the Sox, 6-4, at Citizens Bank. He went seven innings, allowing six hits and three runs. Mike Aviles and Cody Ross took him deep. This time Hamels handled Pedroia, who went 0 for 4. Others in the lineup that day were Gonzalez (1 for 4) and Marlon Byrd (1 for 4). Ross and Aviles each had two hits.
If a team loads up on righthanded hitters, it doesn’t really matter to Hamels. Amazingly, lefties and righties have hit .238 against him.
He’s 54-42 at Citizens Bank with a 3.28 ERA in 134 starts. He has allowed 110 homers there in 895⅔ innings.
If there’s a month in which you can get to the three-time All-Star more than another, it’s right now. His March/April split is his worst — 14-15 with a 4.05 ERA in 37 starts.
Former National Leaguers Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval have had the most exposure to Hamels. Ramirez is a career .273 hitter against him in 71 plate appearances with 2 homers, 11 doubles, and 6 RBIs. Sandoval has 33 plate appearances against Hamels, with a .281 average and 2 homers and 2 RBIs.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in the game,” Ramirez said. “You always have to make adjustments against him. You have to really concentrate and try to think with him. He changes things up on you a lot. Very smart pitcher.”
Catcher Sandy Leon is 2 for 3 against Hamels, Mike Napoli 0 for 2, Ortiz 0 for 3, Pedroia 5 for 15, and Allen Craig 4 for 15 with a home run.
Hamels seems to have his head on straight and is trying to put the trade rumors in the back of his brain. At some point, the Red Sox, Padres, Blue Jays, Rangers, and Dodgers may need him. But as he said late last week, “This is where I am, and this is what I’m doing. To be able to pitch at Citizens Bank is going to be the vision I had. For what it is and what people want to make it, it doesn’t affect me. I’m just happy enough that I get to go pitch and get guys out and try to pitch a full season.”
And Phillies management is being very patient in holding on to Hamels as long as teams such as the Red Sox won’t give them what they want.
Phillies president Pat Gillick told MLB.com, “Any of our players on our roster, as we’ve said before, if it will improve the ballclub, we’ll listen on anyone. But some of the more valuable pieces that we do have . . . I mean, we haven’t heard the things that make us jump up and down and say, ‘Hey, we want to do this. Let’s go. Let’s grab this deal and run with it.’ We haven’t gotten one of those deals yet.”
Hamels is trying to make the best of it. He speaks now of an improved clubhouse, where players are working hard and doing their best to win. Hamels signed up for six years of prosperity and contending. The Phillies aren’t that anymore.
And so the long year begins for one of the best lefties in the business. He likely will not face a tougher lineup than Boston’s the rest of the year. It’s his chance to say, “Hey, I’m here for the taking.”
And Boston’s chance to say, “That’s OK. Maybe later.”
— Additional reporting by the Boston Globe.