If you’ve been following the reports regarding Cole Hamels since the end of the baseball season, it’s been overwhelming clear about what he wanted to find in free agency – a winner. Initial whispers emerged last month that Hamels would be willing to take a one-year deal if it meant competing for a World Series again, even though most projections predicted he could get at least two years on the open market.
Hamels had several teams chasing him, but only a few that he was willing to go to, and the Braves checked all the boxes. Once Anthopoulos met the number he had in mind, which happened to be just above the qualifying offer that the Cubs opted to decline, he was quick to sign the dotted line.
And why not? The Braves are fresh off a 97-win season and just won the division that produced the eventual Word Series champions. Atlanta owned the Nationals down the stretch to clinch their second consecutive NL East title, and at one point, they probably were the best team in the MLB. Injuries, along with a cold stretch of hitting, prevented them from reaching their potential in the postseason, but that shouldn’t take away from how close this team was from competing for a championship.
On top of that, Atlanta has a wealth of youth on the rise that could help this team internally, especially on the mound. Hamels, a fourteen-year veteran, sees that as an ideal opportunity to have an impact both on the field and in the clubhouse, tutoring younger arms like he was once taught in Philadelphia. I know a specific left-handed starter that is going to have a field day picking his brain all season.
According to Grant Mccauley of 680 The Fan, the Braves came to Hamels and made an impression. After that, it was all about reaching a fair number.
Cole Hamels said there were no significant talks about returning to Philadelphia. #Braves stepped up and made a great impression and they got the deal done.
— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) December 4, 2019
Hamels cited his friendship with Jeff Francouer, who he spent time with in Philly, and respect for former rivals Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis as other reasons he saw a fit with Atlanta. However, more than anything, he saw promise in the Braves’ plan, which includes a newfound willingness to spend.
For all the grief Libert Media has been given over the years, they must have heard our cries. At least, that’s what I like to believe. Before the Winter Meetings have even begun, the Braves have already shelled out nearly $100M in contracts, while remaining financially flexible – only one of the deals was for more than two years (Will Smith) – and there is plenty of reason to believe they are not done yet.
Following the Hamels signing, multiple reports are suggesting his acquisition does not take the Braves out of the running for other marquee free agents. Ken Rosenthal said they were still considering Madison Bumgarner, and Bob Nightengale reported they are continuing to pursue Josh Donaldson. Atlanta’s already spent triple the amount they did last offseason, and this could only be the beginning.
According to Spotrac, the Braves were still in the bottom half of the league in terms of spending, ending the season with a payroll of about $143 million. Currently, they are sitting just over $130 million, which suggests they could be done if Anthopoulos wanted to save some money for mid-season acquisitions, and Liberty Media did not raise their budget. However, it now feels apparent that payroll is going to be a decent bit higher than it was a year ago. The question is, how much?
So What’s Next?
There’s an obvious priority here, and that’s Josh Donaldson. The Braves haven’t budged in regards to going after their star third baseman. He’s been the top priority the entire offseason, and there is no reason to suggest that has changed. With that in mind, the Braves have at least $25 million in their pocket they are willing to throw around this offseason. That type of money might only be available for Donaldson, but regardless, they have room to work.
If I had to guess, and I’ve felt this way all offseason, the Braves get a deal done with Donaldson. The fit is just too perfect. Anthopoulos and Donaldson have a relationship, his personality matches the clubhouse, the training staff did a wonderful job keeping him healthy all season, and above all, he raked in a Braves uniform. If Atlanta’s willing to offer him the money, I don’t see why he wouldn’t stay.
Now, there is a chance some desperate team swoops in with an offer that Donaldson cannot refuse, and the Braves cannot match. If that happens, Anthopoulos might have to explore the trade market or look for other areas where the team can improve, like in their rotation or the outfield.
That’s where Madison Bumgarner comes in. Recent rumors following Zack Wheeler signing with the Phillies for $118 million suggest Bumgarner’s market has exploded, and he is believed to want over $100 million. It’s difficult to blame him given the difference in his and Wheeler’s track record, but I’m not sure the Braves are going to be in the market for that, especially if they land Donaldson. Remember, we are still talking about Liberty Media here.
If Atlanta can’t bring back Donaldson, I do expect them to remain active in free agency. Perhaps an arm like Bumgarner would be out of their price range, but there are plenty of other starters they might want to invest in like Ryu.
Aside from free agency, the Braves will be exploring the trade market as well. The right deal would have to come across, of course, but Atlanta is spending for a purpose – they believe it’s time to go all in. And eventually, some of these prospects are going to have to be flipped for something that can contribute now, whether that’s pitching or another bat.
The hot stove is rarely predictable. Last year, Atlanta signed Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann on the same day in November, and they did nothing but bring back Nick Markakis the rest of the offseason. Some might think that will be the case this offseason, but I wouldn’t count it. The Braves are right at the beginning of their window to win championships, and it looks like ownership is allowing the team to make the moves necessary to get back to the World Series.