Here's a question nobody wants to ask: Is Cole Hamels living up to his contract?
The reluctance to address the topic is understandable. Plenty have already questioned the contracts for Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon. If the idea starts circulating that Hamels, too, isn't living up to his mammoth deal, it would be yet another bit of bad news for a team that hasn't been two games over .500 in 197 games.
Maybe it's unfair to ponder this after two poor starts by Hamels. Or maybe it's not. The Phillies needed him to hit the ground running after he missed their first 20 games working through biceps tendinitis. He did not. He has a 7.02 ERA and the Phils have lost each of his three starts.
The Phillies signed Hamels to a six-year extension worth $144 million just before the 2012 trade deadline.
That makes him the sixth-highest paid pitcher in baseball, behind only Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia.
But since signing the extension, Hamels has a 3.56 ERA, which ranks just 44th among major-league starting pitchers over that span.
So the easy answer is: No -- so far, Hamels has not lived up to his contract.
It's important to understand that teams don't always hand out contracts for one reason and one reason only. The general rule is you pay for expected production -- not past production -- but that's not always the case. Hamels' remarkable run through the 2008 postseason certainly played a role in the Phillies' feelings about him and his overall importance to the city.
Tim Lincecum is a good parallel. He won two Cy Young awards with the Giants before his violent delivery caught up to him and he lost miles per hour on his fastball and, as a result, most of his effectiveness. San Francisco still signed Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million deal this past offseason because of how much he's revered by the Giants faithful.
It's a similar situation with Hamels. He was drafted by the Phillies and became their best homegrown pitching prospect since ... maybe ever. After making huge moves to obtain Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt, none of it made any sense if the Phils didn't keep their young(est) ace in Hamels.
However, if you recall, at the time the Phillies extended Hamels, there was a portion of the fanbase that thought the Phils should instead trade him with hopes to re-sign him after the season. They could have netted several intriguing prospects. How would Martin Perez, for one, look in a Phillies uniform right about now?
The Phillies made their decision to give Hamels top-five pitcher money and they're now living with it. Don't misunderstand -- Hamels is by no means a mediocre talent, he's just not one of the best five or six pitchers in the game.
Hamels' presence in the Phillies' rotation alongside Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett still gives them a chance to contend in the National League, especially if the bullpen or bench or outfield defense ever fully come around.
But it's hard to not sit here and think about all the flexibility the Phils would have had these last two years, both financially and with prospects, had they taken a different route with Hamels.
This is purely hindsight and the intention is not to masquerade that. But if you're seeking an honest answer to the question posed above, then no, Hamels has not performed like a $144 million pitcher.
And the Phillies will need him to if they want to make that one final push with this core in the summer months.