David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Cole Hamels is due a guaranteed $86.2 million, through 2018, the minute he takes the mound Wednesday in the Bronx.
But from the Yankees' perspective, at least he's saving their scouting department a few bucks in travel expenses.
By pitching in their backyard, Hamels is giving the Yankees a free look in the series finale. As auditions go, it's a nearly perfect setting, but there is plenty more to consider than simply how he performs on this hitter-friendly stage.
Despite the significant cost and commitment, the Yankees aren't ruling out a run at Hamels, according to a source. And just because the rotation's six spots are currently full with Wednesday's scheduled addition of Ivan Nova, the Yankees might soon come to the realization they need a major upgrade for a starting staff that entered Tuesday with a 4.42 ERA, ranked 12th in the American League.
Nothing has heated up yet on the Hamels front between the two teams, but that could change quickly, as Fox Sports reported that the Rangers are having "ongoing dialogue" with the Phillies about their ace. Hamels does have a no-trade list of 20 teams, but the Rangers and Yankees are not on it. In other words, they already have been preapproved as potential destinations.
Hamels wasn't available in the clubhouse before Tuesday night's 11-6 win by the Phillies over the Yankees, probably because he knew what the topic of conversation would be leading up to his Bronx start. It's not a stretch to say that Hamels could be down to his last handful of appearances in the Phillies uniform.
"I don't really tend to think about that," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "This has been going on for too long now, to think about speculation."
With five weeks left before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, it's not like Hamels has to be moved immediately. Last season, Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija were traded within hours of each other on the day of the deadline. The Phillies would be smart to let this play out as well. But the more competitive the market gets for Hamels, the longer the odds could be for the Yankees.
Hal Steinbrenner said last month that he's willing to add to the team's $215-million payroll to improve this year's club but reluctant to use the Yankees' best prospects as bait. With the Phillies soon to be in rebuilding mode, Hamels is their chance for a big haul in young talent -- not just a salary dump -- that's where the Yankees could feel squeezed out. Last season, they were able to patch a number of holes without trading the top tier of the farm system. By mostly taking on cash.
Those deals kept the injury-riddled Yankees in the playoff race, but Brian Cashman also said recently that the trading frenzy was a "unique situation" to that particular season. Ideally, the Yankees would prefer to take on a bigger chunk of salary in expiring contracts rather than the extra years.
With Hamels, there is a fixed cost, as he'll earn $22.5 million each season for the next three years, along with a $6-million buyout for his $20-million option in 2019. But he also turns 32 in December, and already has logged 1,895 innings, enough to make any team nervous about the health risk going forward.
Those have been great innings, of course. Hamels has a 3.26 career ERA with 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings. This season, Hamels is 5-5 with a 2.96 ERA and his 1.113 WHIP is the lowest since 2011 (0.986). His 9.8 K/9 rate ranks seventh among NL starters.
After what the Yankees have been seeing lately from their own rotation, Hamels may look irresistible this afternoon.