By Sam Bush
Phils fan favorite Cole Hamels and the Atlanta Braves have agreed to a one-year, $18 million contract, ESPN’s Jeff Passan is reporting.
Hamels was a free agent for the first time in his career and said last May that he was open to returning to the Phillies, the team he pitched to a World Series title in 2008.
When healthy, Hamels was as good as anyone in the National League last season, but he was plagued by injuries for the Chicago Cubs.
Before an oblique strain sent him to the injured list, his ERA hovered under 3.00. In 10 starts for the Cubs after returning, Hamels compiled a 5.79 mark. He was just never the same, mostly because of his mechanics.
“Trying to correct things while I built up the arm strength was a recipe for disaster,” said Hamels, a three-time All-Star selection who will be 36 on Opening Day in 2020.
It bothered him so much that even after the Cubs were out of the playoff race, Hamels wanted to take the mound to show teams he was healthy.
“This is the first time I’m going into free agency, and I don’t want that in the back of teams’ heads, how I finished,” he said.
The 14-year veteran finished last season with a 7-7 record and 143 strikeouts with a 3.81 ERA. He threw fewer than 150 innings (141 1/3) for just the third time in his career, and his 1.39 WHIP was a career worst, largely due to walking 3.6 batters per nine innings, also a career high.
When healthy, Hamels spotted his fastball exactly where he wanted to in 2019, setting up his devastating change-up as his out pitch. His cutter also proved to be a solid second weapon to help him generate more ground balls. Early on, he put together a string of 22 consecutive innings pitched without issuing a walk. But that control was lost after his injury — he walked 21 in his final 42 innings in 2019.
He has never been given a qualifying offer, so the Braves have the option of doing that after the 2020 season and getting a draft pick if Hamels opts not to return in 2021.
So far this offseason, the Braves have committed $98.75 million to Hamels, relievers Will Smith, Chris Martin, Darren O’Day, outfielder Nick Markakis and catchers Tyler Flowers and Travis d’Arnaud.
For his career, Hamels is 163-121 with a 3.42 ERA and 2,558 strikeouts, and he ranks seventh among active pitchers for wins. He was the MVP of the 2008 World Series and NLCS with the Phillies.