The Phillies absolutely, positively have to do whatever it takes to sign ace left-hander Cole Hamels before he reaches the free-agent market at the end of the season.

Unless, of course, they decide that they must use their biggest chip to begin looking toward the future before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline comes and goes.

That's the dilemma facing Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. After winning five straight National League East titles, his team is now a long shot to even make the postseason. The Phils are reportedly readying a last-ditch offer to the homegrown, 28-year-old Hamels. "There's no question we want to keep him," Amaro said. "He's a cornerstone of our organization. We view him as part of the core of our ballclub. He's a top-of-the-rotation pitcher and we're doing everything we can to sign him."

If Hamels re-ups, case closed. If not, Amaro faces one of the most pivotal decisions of his tenure.

Hamels strongly hinted during the All-Star break that he's committed to testing the market. "It's a long time to play baseball. It's been seven years. Like I've said, I think every human being wants to know what his value is in whatever job they're in. And if you get to do it, I think it's a pretty cool experience. Because you can either be higher than what you thought, or lower. And I'm willing to accept either," he explained.