Hamels expresses his Phillie love, but what does it really mean?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Cole Hamels says he wants to be a Phillie forever.

He says the Phillies will always get "the benefit of the doubt." He says the Phillies will be "at the top of my list," and that he'll give them "first choice," even if they trade him away this month.

So should we count on Hamels pitching for the Phillies next year, no matter where he's pitching next month?

Not so fast.

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I don't doubt that Hamels was sincere, in comments Sunday to CSN Philly's Leslie Gudel, or in what he said here Monday on All-Star interview day. By all accounts, he does like Philadelphia, the city where he grew up as a player, won a World Series and made his home.

But Hamels is also 3 1/2 months from free agency. The Phillies are 13 games under .500 and 14 games out of first place.

And Phillies people who at one time expressed strong confidence that Hamels would be signed long-term now tell you they're not sure.

Besides that, the fact is that when a team trades a player, a bond is cut. Plenty of traded players talk about returning when they become free agents.

Few actually do.

Hamels spoke Monday about growing up in San Diego as a Padres fan, and about admiring Tony Gwynn for staying with the Padres for his entire career.

"It says something about a person," Hamels said. "But it's up to both sides."

While that's true to an extent, it's obvious that the Phillies very much want to sign Hamels to a long-term deal. It's obvious that they'd be willing to give him a lot of money.

The only unknown is whether they'd be willing to offer the most money.

If the "benefit of the doubt" only means that Hamels would sign with the Phillies if the offers are equal, then that doesn't mean much.

"I'm always going to put them at the top of my list," Hamels said Monday.

I don't doubt he means it. But it doesn't mean he's staying.

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