In a post published for The Athletic this morning, reporter Patrick Mooney relayed quotes from Cole Hamels that indicated the pitcher’s openness–if not downright interest–in pitching for an NL Central club next season, regardless of whether or not the Cubs elect to re-sign him (link).
While the main substance of Mooney’s piece, on the whole, attempts to recap an uneven 2019 that saw Hamels in both dominant (pre-All-Star break) and floundering (post-All-Star break) forms, the most interesting takeaway may have been the hurler’s comments regarding his pending free agency. While Hamels was straightforward in saying he would “love” to be a Cub, he pointed out to reporters–and, perhaps, by extension, Cubs president Theo Epstein–that the NL Central has been a comfortable pitching environment for him during his time in Chicago.
“I obviously do very well at Wrigley,” Hamels said in Mooney’s piece, speaking of his free agency options. “Hopefully, that’s what they think about. Otherwise, I know the other teams in the division are going to think about it. If you have to come to Wrigley three different times, I don’t pitch bad there…I know I do very well in the NL Central.”
While this ultimately may amount to little more than a bit of lighthearted dialogue between a veteran pitcher and a beat reporter with whom he has developed rapport, it seems noteworthy that Hamels may already be imagining himself in the uniform of another NL Central club. Certainly, it would be painful for Cubs fans to see Hamels defect after establishing himself as something of a club rival killer during his time on the North Side.
As Mooney points out, Hamels has posted sterling career numbers against NL Central teams in his career, dating back to his time in Philadelphia:
• Hamels vs. Cincinnati: 11-2, 2.30 ERA (20 starts)
• Hamels vs. Milwaukee: 8-5, 3.53 ERA (20 starts)
• Hamels vs. Pittsburgh: 5-4, 2.52 ERA (13 starts)
• Hamels vs. St. Louis: 5-6, 2.21 ERA (17 starts)
Hamels, of course, just concluded the final season of a 6-year/$144MM extension signed with the Phillies in the midst of the 2012 campaign. The burnished 35-year-old lefty was in the midst of a vintage season in 2019, compiling a 6-3 record and 2.98 ERA up until the night of June 28, when he was afflicted with an oblique strain that, presumably, curtailed his availability and performance moving forward; Hamels missed all of July following that injury, before ultimately posting a 1-4 record with a 5.79 ERA in the second half amidst a team-wide Cubs collapse.
Among NL Central teams that could be a factor in luring Hamels away from Chicago, St. Louis could certainly be in play if they lost their own veteran leader in Adam Wainwright (though it’s worth noting that the Cards still have Alex Reyes recovering on ice). The Brewers should be looking for improvement after a one-game playoff ouster, but they may feel ultimately more comfortable in pursuing a re-up with Gio Gonzalez, the lefty veteran they already have in hand. The Reds, meanwhile, have a rather stacked dance card when it comes to 2020 starting pitching, whereas the Pirates don’t figure to be in the market for near-term, high-AAV veteran free agents like Hamels.
Looking ahead to free agency, Hamels may join an interesting caste of experienced, mid-30s veterans who should comprise something of an open market second-tier for clubs that sit out the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes. Like Dallas Keuchel, Rich Hill, and Wainwright, Hamels should offer a cocktail of experience and clubhouse leadership, dashed with a fair amount of risk for injury and regression.