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Phillies will try hard to keep Hamels long-term, but timing means it won't be easy

The Phillies aren't going to trade Cole Hamels before first making a run at keeping him in Philadelphia long-term. While they have recently broached Hamels' name in trade talks with other teams, as was reported here first, their clear preference is to keep him, not trade him.

"Since we are built on pitching, and have had success with it, having those three guys are essential, if possible,'' Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro said by phone, meaning also Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in addition to Hamels.

Hamels surely is expecting the Phillies to come to him with a presentation sometime in the next few weeks.

The bigger question now is how Hamels will respond. There is no guarantee now that he will seriously entertain any overtures below the blow-him-away variety.

While Hamels is said to be willing to listen to any of Philly's thoughts regarding the contract either before or after the trade deadline, that stance shouldn't necessarily be taken as an indication that he's a slam dunk to sign back in Philly. Hamels lives in Philadelphia year-round and is believed to very much like playing in Philadelphia, but the Phillies may also need to overcome at least two significant hurdles here.

One is that they are having a frustrating season following several in which they had dominated, perhaps raising the idea in his mind that the Phillies may not be the annual shoo-in they've seemed to be. The other one is that the Dodgers -- who are back to being one of baseball's big boys -- loom as a major threat to swoop in and sign the native San Diegan to a monster deal this winter (as might some other teams, as well), with just a few short months to go before free agency.

Amaro spoke the other day to Hamels in what he termed "a private conversation,'' but it isn't hard to imagine Amaro reassuring Hamels of not only their interest in retaining Hamels but also their interest in keeping their nucleus together and winning. Amaro isn't shy about that.

"One of the things I can assure you is, my job is to contend every year,'' Amaro said. "We're not blowing up this team.''

While the Phillies have talked to other teams about Hamels, it's uncertain how much they could get for him in trade since he's only a rental. And not only that, but rentals don't have draft choices attached to them anymore, per the new CBA.

It's a tough spot for the Phillies, who are used to retaining the stars they wanted to keep.

Hamels is known as a cool customer on the mound, and he appears to be the same off the field. He is also unpredictable, like in his second year when he allowed the Phillies to renew him at $500,000 when he was disappointed not to get the $750,000 he was seeking, and last fall when he rebuffed the team's attempt to keep him on a "Jered Weaver type deal,'' meaning about $85 million over five years.

Hamels is now in position to make much more than that. Three agents (not his own) suggested during spring he could receive a deal of $150-175 million in free agency, which could put him in line to top CC Sabathia's record $161-million, seven-year deal -- and that was even before the new Dodgers ownership team paid $2.15 billion for the team.

One competing GM said he could easily see a six-year deal perhaps along the lines of Johan Santana's $138-million contract, so even management people understand that Hamels -- 10-4 with a 3.08 ERA -- has put himself into a very enviable position.

The $112.5-million, five-year deal for Matt Cain and $120-million, five-year Lee deal could be fair baselines, or starting points, at this point. The Cain deal certainly helped Hamels' cause by making Weaver old news.

Amaro acknowledged Cain has had an effect on any negotiations, saying, "We can't work in a vacuum here. We have to be cognizant that they are in the same situation.''

Another reality is that it's hard to keep stars when it gets this close to free agency. The Phillies did it by signing Jimmy Rollins to a $33-million, three-year deal when he was already a free agent. But that's fairly rare.

The Phillies have done a superb job increasing revenues and payroll in recent years as they've continued to win, but another issue here could be the luxury tax. The Phillies do have Joe Blanton and Placido Polanco likely coming off the books after the year (and potentially Shane Victorino, too -- many have assumed Victorino won't be back, but Amaro said, "I don't really have anybody internally that I can replace him with.'') but are skirting the tax as is.

Amaro said, "It's a factor because we are dancing with it, and right now we're above it.''

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