PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies need starting pitchers and Cole Hamels needs a job.
It sure seems like an obvious fit.
“I know Philly is finally trying to make that push,” Hamels told MLB.com this week. “They’re building their roster. If I fit on their roster and their plans, I’d love the opportunity to come back. It’s probably more on their end, though, to reach out and see if I actually do fit in their plans. It would be difficult for me to say, ‘Hey, I want to play there, can you guys make it happen?’ But I’m always willing to play for that team and city and attempt to win a World Series. That’s where I am right now. I just want to have the opportunity to get to the postseason, just so that I can try to win.”
Hamels, 35, means it, too. He is a free agent for the first time in his career following the final season of a seven-year, $158 million contract, which he originally signed with the Phillies in July 2012. Hamels said he is willing to sign a one-year contract to join a team that has a shot to put another championship ring on his finger. The Cubs declined to make him a qualifying offer by Monday's deadline, which means there are no strings attached -- no team will have to forfeit a Draft pick to sign him.
“I’m not there to handcuff somebody or an organization,” Hamels said. “That’s what the younger guys can do. I can do one year here and there and just play as long as I can play. I think that’s what will help give me an opportunity to play on teams that are trying to go to the postseason. If you need one guy, I can just kind of bounce around. Obviously, if the Phillies were interested in longer than one, I’d entertain that, too. But I think I want the opportunity to have as many opportunities to get to the postseason and try to win.
“I’ll go every year. I’ll prove myself. I don’t mind having my back against the wall. I think I perform better like that anyway. It just keeps me more accountable.”
But will it be enough to interest the Phillies? They had no interest in Hamels in July 2018, when the Rangers traded him to the Cubs for a minimal return. But there are indications the Phils are open to a reunion. If Philadelphia signs Hamels to a one-year deal, the club would maintain financial flexibility to pursue further upgrades to the rotation (i.e. Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, etc.), bullpen and lineup.
Hamels went 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA and 3.0 WAR in 27 starts last season with the Cubs. He went 6-3 with a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts before he landed on the injured list in June with a strained left oblique. Hamels returned more than a month later, but he finished 1-4 with a 5.79 ERA in 10 starts.
“I rushed back,” Hamels said. “When you have an oblique injury, you can’t do anything for 14-20 days. I didn’t throw. I just wasn’t able to build up the arm strength. I thought I’d be able to generate my pitches just by being out there. I thought I could just make it work. Unfortunately, my arm got tired. I basically ran before I could walk. I was never able to catch up.”
Of course, the Phillies make most of their roster decisions based on analytics. Steamer projects Hamels to finish 10-11 with a 4.51 ERA in 174 innings in 2020. It projects a 2.2 WAR. (If Steamer’s WAR projection proved accurate, that would have been good enough to make Hamels the Phils’ second-best pitcher in 2019.)
Besides the potential impact to the rotation, Hamels would bring intangibles with him. First, he knows the city and still lives in the area. The Phillies selected Hamels in the first round of the 2002 Draft. He earned 2008 World Series and NLCS MVP honors. He made the All-Star team three times. But Hamels also handled the worst, like when he got crushed with boos when he struggled in ’09. His insight on playing baseball in Philly could be beneficial to current players. Some fixated on the negativity as the team stumbled down the stretch.
“I got booed. Who cares?” Hamels said. “Internally, you’re booing yourself because you probably didn’t do something well. Just accept it and move on. I watched Pat Burrell get booed all the time. Ryan Howard got booed. We watched it and we were like, ‘All right, move on, let’s go.’ I think that’s what it took. We all encouraged each other to be there for each other, have each other’s backs and move forward so that we could win the next inning or game or whatever it was.”
Hamels could mentor the team’s less experienced pitchers, too. He is somebody who learned from Roy Halladay, Jamie Moyer and others.
“Just what I do on a daily basis to get ready for a game, how I approach hitters and getting guys out and then basically what to do in big moments and how to succeed,” Hamels said. “Because at the end of the day, it’s all about winning. Your stats will be great if you try to win. Some guys get so caught up in, ‘I need to get a strikeout per inning.’ Or, ‘I can’t give up this or that.’ No. If you go out and try to win, sometimes you’re going to give up a three-run homer and pitch around it and still win. At the end of the year you’re going to put up really good stats.”