Veteran left-hander Cole Hamels is on his way to Atlanta, where he joins a Braves team ready to make the jump to World Series contenders
The Atlanta Braves starting rotation just got older and, they hope, a little wiser.
Free agent left-hander Cole Hamels has agreed to a one-year, $18 million contract with the Braves, a deal first reported on Wednesday by ESPN’s Jeff Passan. Hamels, who turns 36 later this month, is coming off a season in which he went 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 27 starts for the Chicago Cubs.
The Braves already have an abundance of young and talented starting pitchers. Rookie right-hander Mike Soroka finished third in the National League with a 2.68 ERA in 2019, enough to earn the 22-year-old an All-Star Game appearance and a runner-up finish in Rookie of the Year voting. Max Fried, a 25-year-old left-hander, led the club with 17 wins in his first full season in the rotation.
What the Braves lack is a veteran presence to help guide their up-and-coming stars and give the team a dependable arm to turn to in the postseason. Hamels gives them that. Soroka and Fried have 73 career starts between them, 348 fewer than Hamels alone. Hamels has made 16 postseason starts, 11 more than Soroka, Fried, and Mike Foltynewicz have combined.
General Manager Alex Anthopoulos recognized this when he signed another veteran left-hander, Dallas Keuchel, last June. But Keuchel is now gone, and the role he filled in 2019 will now be taken up by Hamels in 2020.
It’s a role Hamels is well-suited for. After a disappointing final season-and-a-half in Texas where his ERA jumped to 4.43, he was traded to the Cubs at the deadline in July 2018. In 39 starts since, he’s gotten his ERA back down to 3.30. But even that figure can be misleading. Last season he struck out more batters per nine innings than any year since 2015. Batters, meanwhile, had a .315 average on balls put in play, 28 points higher than Hamels’ career average. If that number returns to what is closer to the rest of his career, Hamels is due for an even better season in 2020.
The Braves are a team on the rise. Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies will be keystones in their lineup for years to come. Soroka and Fried are preparing to lead their pitching staff. They’ve won the NL East the past two seasons and are coming off their best season since 2003. But when they were in a winner-take-all game in the postseason, the Braves had to turn to Foltynewicz and put him in a situation he had never been in before.
Game 5 of the NLDS was over before it ever really began, as the St. Louis Cardinals scored 10 runs in the first inning. The Braves youngsters weren’t ready for their turn in the spotlight. Hamels has shone in that spotlight before and has a World Series MVP to show for it. He makes them better and, they hope, into World Series contenders for 2020.