Posted on: February 22, 2012 2:55 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 4:52 pm
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Man, what is it about Philly?
Long the butt of jokes, major league ballplayers can't get enough of that town. One day, it's the Phillies' star lefthander Cole Hamels, the class of the 2012-13 free-agent market, pining to stay in Philadelphia, going so far as to say there is no deadline for a new deal. The next it was Shane Victorino, the sparkplug and heart of the team, who joined the small chorus.
"I'd like to stay here, too,'' Victorino, another free-agent-to-be, said. Victorino cited the very same things Hamels cited abut Philly: the victories, the expectations, the fans, the guys. Believe it or not, the guys are a big part of it.
"I don't want to go anywhere else. this is the place that gave me my start, the place that made me who I am today,'' Victorino said. "This is a great place to play.''
Victorino couldn't think of a bad thing to say. He wasn't even upset that Hamels gets a press conference to say how much he likes Philadelphia, whereas he has to do it one-on-one. "I'm not at that level,'' Victorino said.
Perhaps not, but he is one of the gang, part of the nucleus that makes the guys at the top want to stay a Phillie. Hamels credited the organization for finding the right core, the "six or seven'' players who have formed the personality of the most popular team in the game (to the players, anyway). It may just look like a very talented group to outsiders, but Hamels insisted that the organization has found "the right type of guys'' to form the core.
"We generally have very good makeup guys,'' GM Ruben Amaro said. "These are guys that want to win. I think they all have egos, but these are egos that allow them to perform at the level they need to perform at.''
Hamels' words were so glowing at his press gathering folks wondered whether they were actually scripted by the Phillies public relations staff. Alas, they were not. Yet, the organization was duly pleased by what they heard.
"I think he genuinely enjoys it here,'' Amaro said. "And I think he realized he made some comments in the past without thinking, and he thought about what he was going to say. He's also matured.''
This is a little different from the way the Cliff Lee negotiations went. That time, they were all done in secret, with the small coterie of Philly organization people who knew about them all swearing to keep the secrecy. The only hint of Philly's immense popularity at the time was Roy Halladay's overt effort to get to Philadelphia when his time was up in Toronto. Then Lee left at least $28 million on the table when he spurned the Yankees and went to Philly for $120 million over five years. "It's just the talent level and the expectations,'' Lee said. "There are sellouts every game. Good team, good enviornment ... everything about it is positive.''
Phillies CEO David Montogomery, who helps set the excellent tone and the high payroll (it is bordering on luxury tax territory), appreciates the kind words from Hamels. "We certainly have the door open, and it seems like he does, too,'' Montgomery said. "He's been with us a long time. You never know where it leads. But the interest is there for us to retain him, and it seems like he'd very much like to stay.''
The vibe seems perfect for a deal here. In fact, it would be a shock if the Phillies and Hamels don't figure it out.
The early word is that the Phillies might be thinking about a contract in the range of $100-120 million. That is an estimate, but it makes sense because Lee is a bit more dominant. No matter, negotiations can get intense no matter how wonderful the public rhetoric. "(Hamels) still has (agent) John Boggs, doesn't he?'' Montgomery said. The CEO did say he thinks it's great there's deadline no restrict the talks. And Amaro said luxury tax considerations won't inhibit them either. "It'll come down to years and dollars, just like it does with every contract.''
Hamels certainly has made no secret of his desires. It would be hard to hide them, anyway, as he lives year-round in Philly. He may love it more than any solitary native San Diegan. The idea of playing back in his idyllic hometown, for instance, has no appeal for Hamels, who recalls going to an empty Qualcomm Stadium as a kid. "Nobody goes to Padres games,'' Hamels said. "Why would I want to go where fans only support the team from the third inning to the sixth inning? I'd rather play where fans are excited about the games.''
He is certainly playing no games when it comes to negotiations. Everyone knows where he stands. And where he wants to end up.