Cubs may go Cole (Hamels) mining

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SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 20: Cole Hamels #35 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches during the third inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on April 20, 2012 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) R:MerlinGetty_Photos143190540.jpg

PHILADELPHIA – What would it mean if the Cubs went after the top free-agent pitcher on the market next winter?

“That would show signs that they’re obviously wanting to go out and win,” said the Philadelphia Phillies’ Cole Hamels, the left-hander who might choose to be that guy, “and that they want to do it fairly soon. Not on a 6-to-10-year plan.”

Don’t rule out the possibility – or Hamels’ admitted willingness to seriously consider the Cubs.

General manager Jed Hoyer and president Theo Epstein are keeping specific thoughts and visions of the Cubs’ rebuilding process close to the vest.

But baseball insiders say it’s not out of the question that the Cubs could be in position to win in the next year or two, depending on the development of key prospects such as Anthony Rizzo and Brett ­Jackson and whether they extend Matt Garza’s contract.

Hamels and Garza, both in their 20s, heading a Cubs’ rotation next year?

At least by National League Central standards, it might not get better than that over the next few years.

Hamels, whose contract talks with the Phillies recently faded to crickets about the time the San Francisco Giants’ Matt Cain signed his six-year, $127.5 million contract, said he still plans to give his original organization first shot at re-signing him. He avoided arbitration this year by agreeing to a $15 million deal.

“But if they don’t view me or see me in their plans, then obviously I have to go outside to look, and the Cubs would be a team I would be more than happy to [consider],” he told the Sun-Times, “just because of the fact the city hasn’t won, they’re a baseball town, like Philly, and I think seeing Theo there, obviously trying to build a team, that shows they do want to win, which obviously excites anyone.”

The key is that likelihood of winning, which Hamels, the 2008 World Series MVP, said is a priority for him, whether he stays in Philadelphia or becomes a free agent.

“I think they’re starting to get some good young talent, and that’s kind of what we did, and how we won,” he said of a Phillies team that has been to the playoffs for five consecutive years, including the 2008 championship and 2009 NL pennant. “We built around home-grown talent and then got a few good pieces to [add to] it. That’s where you have to start. And if that’s what the Cubs are doing, then they have a good vision.

“And anybody that ever has the opportunity to play for that city and win in that city, they’ll take that memory forever, and a lot of people would be really jealous that they weren’t part of that team.”

Clearly, it would take at least a few dominoes falling in the right direction organizationally over the next five months for the Cubs to look at diving into the deep end of the free agent pool again that soon.

But they will certainly have the money to do it if they choose, based on limiting big-league payroll costs this year, expiring obligations, rigid new amateur spending restrictions, and foreseeable revenue increases through a Wrigley Field renovation project that could soon get a public-funding boost.

“That right there will impact players,” said Hamels, who suggested the promise of renovations would increase his interest in the Cubs, “because we’ve all played there and realize how brutal the facilities are. I don’t think fans know how much time we spend in the clubhouse and how much time we spend at the field. And when you don’t have adequate equipment or facilities – you want to know that they’re trying to make it comfortable for you because you’re at the field more than you’re at home.

“You’ve got to make it nice, because if you do, players are going to want to be there. They’re going to want to come to the organization. You’re going to have players that would think on the lines of, ‘Hey, do I go to a Yankees organization that has all the money and great facilities, or do I go to the Cubs, who are finally building the good stuff.’ And I think that’s where you can finally get the top players.

“As a fan [Wrigley Field] is one of the coolest stadiums I’ve ever been to. As a player, it’s one of the worst. So if they can change that over, then they’re going to get a lot of great players to come there.”

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