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Rumor Mill: ESPN says Cardinals intrigue Cole Hamels

I'm taking this one with a grain of salt. But ESPN columnist Jerry Crasnick threw a line into his most recent piece about Phillies potential free agent Cole Hamels that the hurler might be interested in signing with the Cardinals since his wife is from Missouri.

Reports I have heard up to this point indicate that the southern California native -- whose nickname is "Hollywood" -- is most interested in playing for the Dodgers. 

The Cardinals would make a great landing spot for Hamels. It's a great place to be for a player because the media pressure is low and the opportunity to win is high. Plus the Cardinals seem to have a lot of longterm financial flexibility as they are poised to add a lot of cheap, young talent to the mix over the next couple of years while potentially shedding the contracts of veterans.

Oscar Tavares, Matt Adams and Kolten Wong are expected to arrive in the St. Louis line-up sometime by 2014 and Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Trever Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez could join Lance Lynn, Fernando Salas and Eduardo Sanchez in the deep St. Louis pitching talent pool.

Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook, Adam Wainwright, Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman are all making big bucks in deals that could come off the books this year or next.

The Birds could opt to trade some of that young talent in order to bolster their pitching staff with an ace for 2012 in hopes that he'll be convinced to stay ala Matt Holliday, Larry Walker, Mark McGwire and countless others.

But it would be an awfully large gamble to take on a guy who is probably the crown jewel of the 2012-13 free agent market.

The Phillies have already offered Hamels a reported $127 million over five years which he has not yet accepted. Reports indicate that most teams interested in Hamels have backed away because they think he's going to take the cash from the Phillies and stay put. But, if he didn't, how much higher than that would the Cardinals be willing to go? Could they outbid the Dodgers, a club flush with a giant new cable deal that has a new ownership group desperate to make a splash?

And if they could be the highest bidder, should the Cardinals open the vault of a six or seven-year deal for a starting pitcher? Mega contracts for pitchers have seldom worked out lately. Barry Zito fell apart after getting a huge deal, Johann Santana has fought injuries since inking a big deal with the Mets. History is littered with Kevin Browns and Mike Hamptons.

And if the Cardinals signed Hamels to that sort of a deal, is there any way the club could attempt to bring back Adam Wainwright? How could you pay your star significantly less than what you pay the new guy?