The Braves wanted to add a veteran to their rotation. They landed a former familiar foe Wednesday.
Left-hander Cole Hamels and the Braves agreed to a one-year, $18 million deal on Wednesday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution confirmed. The contract was first reported by ESPN's Jeff Passan and later announced by the Braves.
Hamels, who turns 36 later this month, produced a 3.81 ERA with 143 strikeouts against 56 walks last season for the Cubs. He pitched 141-1/3 innings after being limited by a left oblique strain, failing to log over 190 innings for only the second time in 10 seasons. He also was stalled by a more serious oblique strain in 2017 with the Rangers.
Before the recent strain, Hamels was brilliant. He owned a 2.98 ERA across 17 starts (99-2/3 innings). When he returned over a month later, he posted a 5.79 ERA over his final 10 outings.
It had been reported Hamels was intrigued by a short-term deal with a contender. Some speculated that a return to the National League East - be it with the Phillies, Braves or Nationals - and joining a franchise in his native California made sense.
Cole Hamels says the Braves were 1 of the 6 teams he was hoping to get a deal done with because they are a contender. Loves the young mix of pitchers and talent on the field pic.twitter.com/TIKe1P0V58— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) December 4, 2019
Hamels made a name for himself in Philadelphia, where he pitched from 2006 through part of 2015. He was a three-time All-Star for the Phillies, winning NLCS and World Series MVP honors in 2008.
The Braves lost two veterans in their rotation when Dallas Keuchel hit free agency and the club declined its option on Julio Teheran. Hamels fills part of that void and brings a comparable resume to Keuchel, who's unlikely to be re-signed.
Hamels wasn't attached to a qualifying offer, meaning the Braves didn't relinquish a pick for signing him. They could still pursue Madison Bumgarner, who comes with a qualifying offer attached, or another seasoned starter to complete their rotation. It's worth noting the Braves already have two lefties in their rotation with Hamels and Max Fried.
It hasn't been a quiet offseason for the Braves, who already had signed relievers Will Smith, Chris Martin and Darren O'Day, along with catcher Travis d'Arnaud, before the Hamels deal.
The team has spent over $45 million for 2020 salary in free agency. Total contracts, including those given to mainstays Nick Markakis and Tyler Flowers, exceed $80 million. Yet only Smith's deal runs beyond two seasons.
The Braves have made it clear: They're ready to take the next step, and they're willing to spend to do so. They've led the charge this winter, attacking their needs in free agency while most other teams have played the waiting game.
While the team could use further pitching help, the glaring hole is at third base (or rather the cleanup spot). Last year's difference maker Josh Donaldson remains unsigned.
It's unclear how the Braves' spending splurge relates to their slugger, but the franchise has been adamant regarding its hopes to retain him. The Braves should still have over $20 million in payroll flexibility, though their financial ceiling is unknown. The team will want to leave room for potential mid-season acquisitions as well.
If Donaldson leaves, the Braves will be forced to turn elsewhere to address their clean-up spot. They'll need a big bat, be it at third or in the outfield, to replace Donaldson's offense. The Braves have Johan Camargo and Austin Riley as internal options at third should they add proven power at a different position.
In the meantime, the Braves have aggressively strengthened their pitching stable. The club had invested heavily in its relief group, and now adds Hamels to a rotation headlined by youngsters Mike Soroka and Fried.
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