Cole Hamels couldn’t get away from baseball during the offseason. Six weeks after the St. Louis Cardinals ended his season prematurely, the Phillies’ youngest ace was giving a pitching clinic in Boothwyn for children aged 8-18, sponsored by the Hamels Foundation.



“I love doing anything with baseball,” Hamels said. “It’s about the kids here right now. But I am looking forward to the start of the season after what happened [against the Cardinals]. We, as a team, can’t wait to get back. I’ll have a lot more to say then.”



Well, the team is almost back. Phillies pitchers and catchers will report to Clearwater, Fla. Saturday and Hamels is scheduled to meet with the media Monday.



The hottest topic? Hamels’ status as a potential free agent after the 2012 campaign. If the Phillies don’t lock up Hamels to a longterm deal, he would be arguably the biggest free agent available next autumn.



The Rangers’ Josh Hamilton, the Dodgers’ Andre Ethier and the Brewers’ Zach Greinke are among the other possible elite free agents.



Hamels, who turned 28 in December, has a very impressive resume. He is 74-54 with a 3.39 ERA pitching half of his games in one of the league’s most hitter-friendly ballparks. He has improved with age, too. Hamels has posted a 2.92 ERA with 405 strikeouts over the last two seasons.



“I really enjoy playing for this team and in this city,” Hamels said. “I want to come back next season and win another World Series.”



Hamels didn’t comment on his contract status then since there was nothing to talk about. However, his agent John Boggs and the Phillies are expected to negotiate during spring training.



Considering that the Phillies will likely sell out Citizens Bank Park for the entire season and there is a monster television deal on the horizon, money shouldn’t be an issue. It’s the amount of years that may provide the obstacle.



Hamels failed to talk about his future this past winter, but he has hinted that he would prefer to stick around.



“I would like to continue to pitch for the Phillies,” Hamels said three years back. “I prefer to pitch on the East Coast. The fans in this part of the country know the game and are passionate about it. It’s a great atmosphere to pitch in.”