NEW YORK -- There was no reason to believe it ended Tuesday at 9:27 p.m. with an 87-mph cutter that Daniel Murphy rolled to second base. Cole Hamels did not pause for a moment to savor his effort, eight shutout innings in a 6-0 Phillies win over the Mets. On Sunday afternoon, he should arrive at Nationals Park for his 264th career start, all with the Phillies.
The Phillies would counteract years of rhetoric by trading Hamels within the next two days. But they are on pace for 71 wins, Hamels is throwing a baseball better than ever, and contenders salivate. There are no guarantees.
But every fifth day, Hamels makes everyone associated with the Phillies forget their current predicament. He has a sterling 2.55 ERA -- it's 1.58 since June 1 -- that does not begin to describe the brand of dominance emanating from Hamels' left arm.
"It looks like he's stepped it up a notch," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Motivated, stepped up. It really gives us a lift to watch that, to have him be the guy on the mound for us."
Rival executives have expressed confusion about the Phillies' strategy this month. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. promised change three weeks ago. He has shopped every player on his roster in an effort to improve the franchise's fate.
There is one certainty: The Phillies must be overwhelmed to trade Hamels, 30. They have demanded, according to multiple reports, that a team assume all of the $96 million left over the final four years of the left-hander's contract and at least that team's top three prospects.
Hamels, by definition, is "available." The conditions are exorbitant, but that is what a pitcher of Hamels' caliber requires. The top free agents this winter -- Max Scherzer and Jon Lester -- will sign for a longer term and more money than the remainder of Hamels' current deal. Lester will be 31 by April and Scherzer turns 31 next summer. Hamels has a lower ERA and more postseason experience than either one of those arms.
He is a known commodity as opposed to prospects, which the Phillies covet. Those minor-league players, however, could be the game's most overvalued currency. The Phillies could stockpile some prospects -- albeit not elite ones -- in exchange for other assets.
Amaro is not operating under an edict to clear payroll. Team president David Montgomery told The Inquirer last month he will not endorse a complete rebuild. Trading Hamels would signal such a movement; the organization is stripped of pitching depth. Cliff Lee is under contract for 2015, but the team will look to move him either now or in the winter. A.J. Burnett could retire. Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez are free agents. That leaves David Buchanan and a mishmash of young arms recovering from shoulder ailments.
"Overall, I think you need the starting pitching to compete," Sandberg said. "Offense, sometimes that can be improved on some regards, but I'd said -- generally speaking -- good pitching with defense gives you a chance."
Three homers supported Hamels on Tuesday. Jimmy Rollins and Grady Sizemore cracked solo shots to nudge the Phillies ahead. Chase Utley smashed a Josh Edgin fastball for his first grand slam since Sept. 2, 2010.
Hamels handled the rest, a sight Phillies fans have witnessed for nine years.
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