The Phillies have long been a club that likes to lock up young, core players and keep them off the free-agent market.
At 28, Cole Hamels fits that description. In fact, Phillies officials have commented that theyd like to keep the left-hander in red pinstripes for years to come.
But it does not appear as if Hamels, who will be eligible for free agency after the 2012 season, will get a long-term contract extension this winter.
Weve had discussions with Cole, assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said during an appearance on Comcast SportsNets Phillies Hot Stove on Tuesday night. Right now, were focused on a one-year deal.
Phillies officials have a policy of not commenting on negotiations with players, so its unclear if the two sides have encountered difficulties in their talks. But it seems clear that the team is content to let Hamels pitch in 2012 and take its chances on locking him up at a later date.
Theres plenty of time down the road, Proefrock said. Thats all Ill say. Right now were focused on a one-year arbitration deal.
Hamels made 9.5 million in 2011 and posted a career-best 2.79 ERA while finishing fifth in National League Cy Young voting. Since the 2010 all-star break, the left-hander has a 2.62 ERA, the fifth-best in the majors among pitchers with 300 or more innings.
Proefrock said he was optimistic that the two sides could strike a one-year deal without an arbitration hearing.
Its not clear what it would take to keep Hamels off the free-agent market next winter, but Jered Weavers five-year, 85 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels seems to be a reasonable comparable. The average annual value of Weavers deal is 17 million. Of course, its quite possible that Hamels, a two-time all-star and former World Series MVP, has his heart set on a more lucrative payday and a strong 2012 season could help him secure that with the Phillies or some other club.
Proefrock was asked if he believed Hamels was interested in a long-term deal or whether he sensed the pitcher wanted to test the market next winter.
All indications from what we know are hes happy here and he likes Philadelphia, Proefrock said. Coles been a huge part of the success weve had. Obviously, if things worked out wed love to have him long-term. Again, two parties have to come to an agreement that satisfies both and sometimes thats a long and arduous process, but we feel we have plenty of time to address that.
When asked about his contract last summer, Hamels was tight-lipped, but he did indicate that he wanted to remain with the Phillies. But it sounds like this one is going to take some time.
Proefrock touched on several other matters during the interview, including Ryan Howards recovery from surgery to repair a torn left Achilles tendon. Proefrock said the team was hopeful that Howard would return to the lineup sometime in May.
Well be happy if we get five months out of him, quite frankly, Proefrock said. Anything in front of the first of May would be a bonus. All indications are hes feeling great and is in great shape. Everything is geared toward sometime in May. From our perspective, anything before that would be great. We dont want a situation where he reinjures himself or stresses it so well err on the cautious side.
Proefrock said that Joe Blanton, who missed most of last season with a right elbow injury, is feeling good and throwing. He said Blanton would be assured of a spot in the rotation, if healthy.
This is a big year for him, Proefrock said. Its his free-agent year and we expect hell pitch well for us.
As for remaining items in the construction of the roster that the Phils will take to spring training, Proefrock said the team was exploring the possibility of signing a veteran reliever to add depth and insurance in the late innings. The Phillies investigated the possibility of signing Kerry Wood, but it appears his asking price is too high.
Proefrock sounded pessimistic about the chances of Brad Lidge returning.
Brads been a tremendous part of the success of our franchise, he said. You never say never, but Id say at this point it would have to be the right situation for both parties.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at email@example.com.