ATLANTA -- After signing a one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves on Wednesday, Cole Hamels said he looks forward to giving Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Atlanta's other young starters the same kind of valuable guidance he received from Roy Halladay and the veterans who guided him through his early years with Philadelphia.
“When it came down to it, I wanted to play on a contender,” Hamels said. “I was very familiar with the Braves. I’ve watched them in the postseason and I’ve seen what they’ve been able to create. I’ve always been following them in hopes of maybe being able to pitch with some of those guys, because they have such good young talent. I know at my stage of my career what I could provide could be beneficial.”
Because Hamels did not receive a qualifying offer from the Cubs, this signing will not cost the Braves a compensatory 2020 Draft pick.
The Braves’ bid to win a third consecutive National League East title has been strengthened as they have easily been the most active team this offseason. Along with re-signing Nick Markakis, Tyler Flowers, Darren O'Day and Chris Martin, they have signed left-handed reliever Will Smith (three years, $40 million), catcher Travis d'Arnaud (two years, $16 million) and Hamels.
Accounting for guaranteed salaries, projected arbitration figures and minimum salaries needed to round out the 26-man roster, Atlanta will have an Opening Day payroll that exceeds $130 million. But the Braves still are focused on re-signing Josh Donaldson, who is expected to make approximately $25 million per year with his next contract.
“It’s very hard for me to predict what else we might do with the offseason,” Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “We’re going to use every bit of time we have to improve this club. We don’t have anything lined up over the short term.”
Hamels posted a 3.81 ERA while logging 141 2/3 innings over 27 starts for the Cubs this season. The lefty, who will turn 36 on Dec. 27, produced a 2.98 ERA over the 17 starts he made before straining his left oblique on June 28. Opponents produced a .302 on-base percentage and a .357 slugging percentage during this span.
As Hamels posted a 5.79 ERA over the 10 starts he made after returning to the injured list, he allowed opponents to produce a .397 on-base percentage and a .506 slugging percentage.
Hamels surrendered a .384 BABIP over those final 10 starts and a more projectable .289 BABIP before he went on the injured list. But his late struggles were not completely a product of bad luck. Hamels surrendered 0.81 homers per nine innings and issued 3.16 walks per nine before the injury. Those numbers jumped to 1.71 HR/9 IP and 4.50 BB/9 IP after he returned.
“Once I had the injury, I just could never establish the feel,” Hamels said. “Then I was trying to overthrow and force pitches. It was just nothing was going right.”
Hamels was shut down with left shoulder fatigue after issuing five walks over just 3 1/3 innings against the Reds on Sept. 16. He returned to the mound on Sept. 28 and recorded eight strikeouts over four scoreless and walk-free innings against the Cardinals. Anthopoulos said that outing gave Atlanta confidence the four-time All-Star was entering the offseason in healthy fashion.
“We feel he has a good chance to be the guy he was in the first half of the year,” Anthopoulos said. “I think it’s been very well documented when he came back from the oblique injury, his shoulder wasn’t 100 percent sound.”
By agreeing to this short-term deal with Hamels, the Braves lessened the likelihood of signing Madison Bumgarner, who is seeking a four-year deal that would likely include an average annual value of at least $18 million.
Braves fans are quite familiar with Hamels, who earned four top 10 finishes in NL Cy Young Award balloting while pitching for the Phillies from 2006-15. The veteran southpaw spent portions of four seasons with the Rangers before being traded to the Cubs before the 2018 Trade Deadline.
Hamels averaged 208 innings per year from 2007-16 and then was limited to 148 innings in '17. He bounced back to work 190 2/3 innings in '18. The career-low innings total this past season is a concern. But Hamels did complete at least seven innings in seven of the 18 starts made before missing July with the oblique strain.
“It made a lot of sense for us,” Anthopoulos said. “You’re betting on the person, the human being and the work ethic. He takes tremendous care of himself. We feel he has a chance to pitch at a high level for a long time.”