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With Hamels inked, Phils set sight on making push

PHILADELPHIA -- Ruben Amaro Jr. can't say for sure whether or not the Phillies can make the kind of run that will get them back in contention this season. Nobody can.

They've won four straight games in their final at-bat, and eight of 11 overall. They have Ryan Howard and Chase Utley back in the lineup, and Roy Halladay back in the rotation. On the other hand, they're still nine games below .500, and in last place in the National League East.

"We have our whole arsenal together," the Phils' general manager said. "The biggest thing we have is the presence of those big three. That was the club we hoped to have coming out of Spring Training. Injuries are a part of the game. All we can do is try to play the best possible baseball we can, and hope we can put ourselves in a position to get back into this thing."

Amaro is certain, though, that his team's chances of winning next year and beyond are a heck of a lot better with Cole Hamels in the rotation than without him. And that was a good enough reason to be pleased that the ace left-hander agreed to a six-year, $144 million extension Wednesday that will keep him off the free-agent market this winter.

"Our job is to try to be contenders every year," Amaro said. "Now, hopefully we can put the pieces together around him and fill in some of the holes and some of the deficiencies we might have in other ways. But we certainly believe that having Cole near the top of our rotation is an important part of that.

"We think he's one of the elite left-handers in the game. We're happy to have gotten it done. We hope to give ourselves a chance, and we think this is the best way to give ourselves a chance to bring home another championship here in Philadelphia, with Cole rather than without him."

Still, in some ways, signing Hamels complicates Amaro's task. Despite having one of the highest payrolls in baseball, there's a limit. He's already up against the $178 million luxury tax threshold; in fact, the Phillies may already be slightly over it.

"We don't have an open wallet," Amaro said. "That'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."

The Phils now have $123.5 million designated to just seven players for 2013: Hamels, Halladay, Howard, Utley, Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon and Jimmy Rollins. Noted club president Dave Montgomery: "There's no question that Ruben has his work cut out for him."

Given those strictures, Amaro conceded that he can't be confident that he'll be able to address all the potential needs Philadlphia might have going into next season.

"But I know that we're going to work hard to do that," he said. "The guys that we have on the field now, it's not out of the realm of possibility they'll be back. We have a club option on [third baseman Placido Polanco]. [Center fielder Shane Victorino] is a free agent after this year if we don't sign him long term, [but] he's certainly a possibility to bring back. I think that we'll have some choices there.

"But there are a lot of different ways to fill those holes, whether it be a trade or acquisition or internally. I would assume that at least the way we set up right now that those two elements, center field and third base, if we do not pick up the option on Polly or sign Vic, will probably come externally. [Right-hander] Joe Blanton's the other question. We don't have a ton of starting pitching depth, so that's something we have to consider as well."

The bullpen is also an area that will have to be fortified at some point. With the non-waiver Trade Deadline looming next Tuesday, it's not open-and-shut at this point whether the Phillies will be buyers or sellers.

"My answer to that is one thing, we're trying to be improvers," Montgomery said.

In other words, don't look for the Phils to acquire a rental player. If they make a deal, it will for somebody they think can contribute in 2013 and beyond. And while they could move a player currently on the big league roster, there won't be a fire sale. Not with a current streak of 254 straight sellouts at Citizens Bank Park.

"The fan support has been phenomenal," Montgomery said. "We want to sustain that. It may be even tougher to sustain than it was to get there in the first place. We're experiencing that right now.

"The reality is you want to do the right thing to continue to be successful enough to be attractive to your fans. We still have decisions to make, there's no question about that. Not only do we think [signing Hamels] is the right decision, but we also believe it's a popular decision for our fans. As tough as our first half was, we think there's an impression for the remainder of the season, and we think this is a positive impression for our fans."

Montgomery acknowledged that the fan base likely reacted positively to the news, but he wanted to emphasize the distinction between the response and the real reason for the signing.

"This is a baseball decision, not a fan decision," he said. "[But] we wanted to do the things to give our fans the feeling that good times lie ahead as well. I'm sure fans would be [angry if he didn't come back]. There's so much left of this year. We had a very disappointing first half. We have the club that we envisioned playing here now, and we hope to create some excitement with that. We don't know where that road leads."

What the Phillies do know is that they can now count on having Hamels through 2018.

Philadelphia Phillies, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Placido Polanco, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino