Track record has its limits when teams are talking trade. So while Hamels' four top-10 finishes in the National League Cy Young Award voting and 2008 World Series heroics are all wonderful accomplishments, the bottom line is that a team considering the surrender of prized prospects and the addition of Hamels' lofty price tag to the payroll probably wanted to see more from that long left arm than his last couple starts had wrought.
So there were a lot of industry eyeballs on Wrigley Field on Saturday afternoon. And by the time Odubel Herrera's circus catch had sealed the first no-hitter against the Cubs in 50 years, the number of eyeballs on the bearded, brilliant Hamels had multiplied considerably.
This was history. And maybe soon, Hamels' Phillies career will be the same. If this was his Philly finale, what a way to go. If it wasn't, well, that's only because the trade equation for a guy making big money north of $30 million is a lot more complicated than we'd like it to be.
But if there was any concern on the part of the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Giants, Rangers, Astros and, yes, the Cubs that Hamels was injured, inattentive or otherwise incapable of providing a big second-half boost, Hamels emphatically answered the doubters.
"Nothing will top winning a World Series," he said afterward. "But this is right under it."
In the two starts that preceded this gem, Hamels had been roughed up to the tune of 14 earned runs on 20 hits over just 6 1/3 combined innings.
Around the game, eyebrows were elevated. Teams send extra scouts to July games for a reason. They've got access to every player's baseball-reference.com page if they want to know what they've done in the past. The present gains gravitas as the conversations in the leadup to Friday's non-waiver Trade Deadline pick up steam.
We know that the Phillies have at least been open to the idea of moving Hamels for a year now, and they got serious about dealing him over the winter. A deep free-agent pitching class negatively impacted his trade value in the offseason, and an even deeper class awaits next offseason.
So while the Phillies have been adamant all along about getting both major salary relief (Hamels is due to make a minimum of $78 million between now and the end of 2018) and netting at least two near-Major League-ready players, the industry has not exactly complied. Neither, in fact, has Hamels himself. This has been a down year, especially by his lofty standards. He went into Saturday with an adjusted ERA+ of 96, putting him in danger of his first below-average season in that stat since 2009.
Hamels' last two starts -- against the Giants and Marlins -- were the low point, and they came at a particularly bad point. Though this trade market isn't exactly ripe with sellers, there are/were a number of starting-pitching assets out there, including the just-moved Scott Kazmir, as well as other short-term rentals in Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake and the possible involvement of Jeff Samardzija, Yovani Gallardo and the big one -- David Price -- to name but a few.
With teams reluctant to part with top talent and the number of clubs who can realistically take on Hamels' salary limited to a precious few, this is a very tough environment for the Phillies' new-look front office (Andy MacPhail will soon be taking over as team president, working alongside general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.) to get a franchise-shaping return.
Saturday's nine innings, therefore, meant a great deal toward the deal discussions. This was reminiscent of the Hamels we all remember from the fall of '08 and a multitude of wonderful moments in the red pinstripes over the years. Hamels mixed his pitches well, routinely hit Carlos Ruiz's spots and was consistently around 95 mph on the radar gun with his fastball. You couldn't help but feel happy for Hamels, Ryan Howard and Ruiz that, as only the healthy last remnants of the Phillies' championship run remain (Chase Utley is on the disabled list), they were able to share this moment together.
Hamels had put extra emphasis on his bullpen session between starts, because, frankly, he knows what's on the line right now. He has made it no secret he wants no part of a rebuild. He wants to be on a team built to win around him, and a no-no against the most exciting young lineup in the game was a welcomed reminder of what ol' Hollywood Hamels is capable of when he's on top of his game.
The Cubs were watching, quite clearly. That Hamels himself out-hit them with his double in the eighth had to be humbling. And maybe it had Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer thinking a little harder about what a Hamels-Lester tandem would look like atop their rotation for the foreseeable future.
Or maybe the Dodgers will now think a little harder about how to put together a package for Hamels that somehow doesn't involve Corey Seager or Julio Urias. Ditto the Yankees and Aaron Judge, Luis Severino or Greg Bird. Or the Red Sox and Mookie Betts and Blake Swihart.
Again, a trade this massive is complicated. Too complicated to just blindly assume that Hamels' price tag suddenly skyrocketed.
But when teams consider a deal of this magnitude, they want to feel they are acquiring an asset capable of moving the needle. For nine no-hit innings, Colbert Michael Hamels showed us that, and his timing -- for himself and for the team that still employs him -- was impeccable.