When the 2011 season ended, the Phillies' front office realized change was inevitable. After declining two club options for pitchers Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt, they faced the real possibility that five key contributors from their roster would not be back in 2012.
In addition to Lidge and Oswalt, left fielder Raul Ibanez, closer Ryan Madson and shortstop Jimmy Rollins were also free agents.
To general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.'s credit, he worked diligently to make sure the roster did not fall apart. He filled what he viewed as the team's two most importance vacancies, plucking Jonathan Papelbon off the open market to replace Madson and re-signing Rollins a week before Christmas.
But the heavy lifting for the Phils brass will actually begin with the new year. With at least a half-dozen proven closers on the free agent market this winter and a player in Rollins ready and willing to return, the first two objectives were relatively simple. The challenge that lies ahead begins with the arbitration process and, namely, negotiations with All-Star left-hander Cole Hamels.
Hamels just completed a three-year, $20.5 million contract, a deal that, when signed in January 2009, bought out each of Hamels' first three arbitration years. But Hamels is now less than a year away from being able to file for free agency.
Hamels, who turns 28 two days after Christmas, would have no shortage of suitors ready to write out a very large check for his services. Hamels is a former World Series MVP who has averaged 206 innings in each of the last five seasons. He finished fifth in the National League Cy young balloting in 2011, when he went 14-9 with a career-best 2.79 ERA in 32 games.
"That's a situation that we'll deal with when it's appropriate," Amaro told the Delaware County Daily Times. "We're trying to put the best club on the field not just for this year, but beyond that. We've had some discussions with Cole, but when we start to get into it, we'll deal with it at the appropriate time.
"We'll see how it goes. If we get into a negotiation, it will probably be quiet. We're not going to have public discussions about them, but at some point we'll have those discussions, probably after the first of the year."