Amazingly, 35-year-old, four-time All-Star, Cole Hamels, is a free agent for the first time in his career, and his focus could not be more apparent – he wants to win. A recent report by MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki suggests Hamels is looking to join a club that’s in win-now mode and will take a one-year deal if need be.
The Braves fit that description perfectly and are going to be heavily involved in the starting pitching market. They already declined Julio Teheran’s option and will probably let Dallas Keuchel walk in free agency, so they’ll likely be looking for two arms to sure up their rotation. It’s already been reported that Atlanta has made Madison Bumgarner a priority, but they are one of many that will be targeting arguably the greatest postseason pitcher of this generation. Given the Braves’ hesitancy towards dolling out long-term, lucrative contracts, it’s difficult to imagine them actually landing Bumgarner. However, an arm like Cole Hamels – on a one-year deal – is much more fathomable.
Hamels may no longer be the ace he once was, but he remains a model of consistency, finishing with a 3.81 ERA in 27 starts last year for the Cubs. This comes after posting a 3.78 ERA between Texas and Chicago in 2018 and a 4.20 ERA with the Rangers in 2017 before he last was an All-Star in 2016. He’s a big-game pitcher with over 100 innings of experience in the playoffs, recording a more than respectable 3.46 ERA.
Pretty much everything suggests Hamels has still got it. His fastball velocity is down a bit, but it’s nothing drastic. His cutter velocity was actually up in 2019, and his ERA and FIP the past few seasons have hovered slightly north of his career averages, but again, nothing drastic. This is an arm – come October – you’re going to want on your team.
For teams like the Braves, Hamels isn’t going to be on the top of their wish list. Atlanta is targeting the cream of the crop, as they should be. They have Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies locked up for pennies and are coming off back-to-back NL East titles. The time for them to make a run at big-time free agents is now. Unfortunately, their unwillingness to hand out long-term deals with high AAV might prevent them from not only missing out on the top guys like Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg but also the second-level arms like Madison Bumgarner and Zack Wheeler.
My gut tells me the Braves will finally spend the money and acquire one of those four – most likely Wheeler or Bumgarner – but it’s far from a sure thing, and if they miss out, Hamels is the ideal fallback plan. He’s more reliable in the postseason than Dallas Keuchel and might cost half as much as the $20 million pro-rated salary the Braves gave Keuchel in 2019. Hamels will probably receive somewhere in the $12-15 million range, which will allow Atlanta to upgrade their roster in other places while providing the rotation the boost it needs. It’s probably not Alex Anthopoulos’ ideal scenario, but it’s a realistic one, and the Braves could do much worse than having Cole Hamels in the middle of their rotation.