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Hamels locked up, but tough decisions remain

Victorino, Pence, Lee could be moved to shed salary

PHILADELPHIA -- So what's next?

Cole Hamels signed a six-year, $144 million contract extension with the Phillies on Tuesday -- it could be a seven-year, $162 million deal if a 2019 option automatically vests -- but already everybody is looking forward. The Phillies have big decisions to make before Tuesday's Trade Deadline, and even bigger ones to come in the offseason and beyond.

But first things first: Are the Phillies buyers or sellers before the Trade Deadline?

"We're trying to be improvers," Phillies president David Montgomery said.

"We're just going to try to improve the club as much as we can, whether it's improving for 2012 and beyond or for 2013 and beyond," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "A lot will be dictated by the way we play."

The Phillies are 45-54, and are in last place in the National League East, 14 games behind the Nationals and 9 1/2 games behind the NL Wild Card leaders. The Phillies might have locked up Hamels, but they could still sell some of their talent with an eye on 2013 and beyond. said the Phillies and Dodgers are talking about potential trades that could include Shane Victorino or Hunter Pence. Trading Victorino would make sense because it seems less than likely that he will return after the season, and it would be better to receive some prospects for him than just let him walk after the season. Trading Pence would make sense if the Phillies are trying to clear payroll before 2013. Pence is salary arbitration-eligible and could make $14 million or more next season.

The Phillies have $123.5 million committed in salary to Cliff Lee ($25 million), Roy Halladay ($20 million), Ryan Howard ($20 million), Hamels ($19.5 million), Chase Utley ($15 million), Jonathan Papelbon ($13 million) and Jimmy Rollins ($11 million) next season. Add Pence to that mix and it's more than $137 million for eight players.

The luxury tax threshold next season is $178 million. That does not leave much room to fill potential holes in center field, third base, left field and the bullpen, unless the Phillies decide to go significantly over that number.

"Ruben has his work cut out for him," Montgomery said.

Lee's name is already coming up in trade speculation, which would be especially interesting because the Phillies already traded him once and Lee took less money to return to Philadelphia in December 2010.

"Yeah, I probably would be stunned, but it's happened before so you never know," Lee said.

But the Phillies do have three starting pitchers averaging $20 million or more per season. That's a lot of money tied up in the rotation. They could trade Lee and use some of that money elsewhere.

"When you retain some of the best pitchers in the game, they're going to be costly," Amaro said. "It's really kind of my job to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. We don't have an open wallet. It's not how it works. It's not how any business would work. It's my job to try to put the pieces together in the right fashion. We have a lot of decisions to make, but the one thing that is clear is that we're committed to winning. We're committed to bringing another championship if we can do that. And we're committed to continue to try to improve, whether it be during the course of this Deadline, whether it be beyond that in the offseason, our job in the front office is try to do what we can to improve the club.

"Money is not necessarily the deciding factor on being a contending club. It helps. There's no question about it. We've been given a tremendous amount of leeway. Our partnership group has been extraordinarily supportive of that. But it's also our job to try to put the right pieces together. And hopefully we can do a good job of doing just that."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for
Read More: Philadelphia Phillies, Cole Hamels, Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, Cliff Lee