Cole Hamels sat down Monday with CSNPhilly.com for an extensive interview covering a wide range of topics. Here is the first part of our week-long series:
In five of his first six major league seasons, Cole Hamels experienced the thrill of postseason baseball.
But he and his Phillies teammates have spent the last two Octobers at home.
“It’s been miserable,” Hamels said Monday. “I don’t even want to watch the postseason. I want to be part of it.”
In two weeks, Hamels and his teammates will assemble in Clearwater, Fla., to begin their quest to return to the playoffs after two disappointing seasons, the last of which resulted in just 73 wins (the team’s fewest since 2000) and the firing of manager Charlie Manuel.
Want to feel old? Hamels turned 30 last month. And though he’s still younger than many of his teammates, he knows his baseball clock is ticking. He also knows the clock is ticking on this team and that management could concede to a rebuilding effort by midseason 2014 if the club is not in contention.
Hamels says he wants no part of that.
“It will probably be reiterated early in spring training and during the season that we really do have to make it because we don’t want to break it,” Hamels said.
In his first interview of the New Year, Hamels spoke with CSNPhilly.com about a number of topics Monday, including the team’s performance in 2013, clubhouse chemistry and the possibility of rebuilding.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time Hamels commented on these topics. He spoke about all three -- and not in positive tones -- in the December issue of Philadelphia magazine.
Hamels took on the issues again Monday.
In fact, he raised the issue of clubhouse chemistry.
The last two seasons “definitely caused some frustrations in the whole team morale,” Hamels said.
He mentioned the firing of Manuel, the number of injuries, and the losing as leading to frustrations and morale problems.
“You have a lot of guys coming in and out and we didn’t know how to handle it,” Hamels said. “I think that was kind of the case. A lot of us had been winning, a lot of us were new, and all we knew was winning, so it was a different sort of perspective for a lot of us that we had to deal with.”
Hamels was asked whether the chemistry issues were a matter of the players not liking each other or the players not liking losing.
“It was not liking losing,” he said. “I think we all get along very well and we’ve done it for numerous years, so I think it was just the losing and not knowing how to handle losing.
“I know that definitely shows a lot about your character when you get a bunch of guys together that aren’t used to losing. Things didn’t go well. So I think that’s something where we know what we have to do in taking the right steps in the right direction.
“I think spring training is going to be a lot more about us functioning as a group together and kind of bringing that camaraderie.”
Hamels was asked whether he believed addressing chemistry would be manager Ryne Sandberg’s first order of business this spring.
“I think so,” Hamels said. “He probably has a laundry list, which I think any guy would, but I think chemistry and getting everybody to get back [together] because we’ve been far apart because we haven’t been on the field. Now that we’re all on the same field, it’s almost like a reunion. We need to almost relearn how guys function and the cliques and what guys are talking about.
“We’re showing signs of it this offseason. Guys are staying more in touch this offseason and that will help.”
The Phillies finished third from the bottom in the NL with just 610 runs (3.77 per game) in 2013. That had some impact on Hamels as poor run support contributed to his career-high 14 losses.
Hamels was quoted in Philadelphia magazine as saying the team’s hitting “sucked.” It’s difficult to argue with that assessment, but still, one has to wonder whether Hamels might have to do some smoothing over with the hitters in spring training.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think a lot of the hitters understood that was not the only quote that was misinterpreted.
“I didn’t pitch well. The relievers weren’t doing a good job. I think we made the most errors we’ve made in a long time. So it was a whole team idea. I think we all understand what our job is and how we need to focus on making it better.
“So I think [teammates] know me pretty well that when things are talked about, they know the whole picture or what was said as opposed to just one thing. I’ve seen a lot of them recently -- they all didn’t think anything about it.”
Hamels seemed to second-guess management in the magazine article when he said you have to know when to start over. That was a reference to rebuilding, a concept the Phillies have stiff-armed.
In Monday’s interview, Hamels was asked if he believed it was time for the Phillies to rebuild.
“I don’t necessarily think so because we have our guys,” he said. “It’s kind of our last leg with a lot of us, so I think it’s a matter of having guys realize that this is the last couple moments of greatness that we have.
“We need to keep it going for as long as we possibly can. There is going to be a point where it does end, but make it on our time, not on somebody else’s time. Make it harder for their decision as opposed to us letting them make that decision a no-brain sort of idea.
“I think that’s where we are. We’re starting to come together to really understand that baseball doesn’t last forever for us individually, but it lasts forever for the city of Philadelphia and it lasts forever for these fans, so we have to make it that we’re something special for these fans.”
If the Phillies are playing poorly at midseason 2014, management could look to begin a rebuilding effort. That could mean several core players will be made available in trades. Could Hamels be one of them? Anything is possible, but management identified him as a player it wanted to build around when it signed him to a $144 million contract extension in July 2012. That could mean Hamels stays as a foundation piece of future clubs.
Cliff Lee, on the other hand, could be dealt if the Phillies falter in the first half of 2014.
Hamels doesn’t want to see that happen.
That’s why a quick start is important for this club.
“I know we’re very good at finishing strong, but at the same time you don’t want to be chasing,” Hamels said. “So we do [have to play well early] because I don’t want to be playing against Cliff Lee. He’s a tremendous pitcher. And I’d hate to be playing against some of the other guys on our team.
“It’s ultimately up to us to make it happen.”