Veteran lefty Cole Hamels is a free agent for the first time in his excellent 14-year career, but unlike many free agents he doesn’t sound laser-focused on securing one last, lucrative multi-year deal. Rather, he tells MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki that his focus is on signing with a club that is making a clear push for postseason play — even if it means taking a one-year deal.
“I can do one year here and there and just play as long as I can play,” says Hamels. “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.”
There’s some degree of strategy to the decision. Locking himself into multiple years could, conceivably, lead to being stuck on a club where things go south for in 2020 but he’s retained with an eye toward 2021. Plus, on a one-year deal, even if the team with which he signs performs poorly and falls out of contention, there’s always the possibility of being traded to a club making a more definitive postseason push.
Hamels has one World Series ring to his credit already, which he secured more than a decade ago when he was named both the NLCS MVP and World Series MVP for the Phillies’ last championship in 2008. A second tour of duty with the Phillies holds appeal to the veteran Hamels, who says he would “love the opportunity to come back” and recognizes that the organization is “finally trying to make that push.” Notably, he adds that he’d consider a multi-year pact to return to Philly.
Of course, the Phillies’ starting staff quite likely needs more help than Hamels alone can provide, but his willingness to take a one-year pact could allow Philadelphia (or any other win-now club with multiple starting needs) to spend more aggressively on a higher-end rotation augmentation. At present, the Phillies have Aaron Nola atop their starting staff and little else in terms of certain commodities. Jake Arrieta is under contract for another season, but he struggled considerably before undergoing season-ending surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow. Zach Eflin finished out the year with respectable but unspectacular numbers, while fellow righties Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez both turned in ugly 2019 campaigns.
Hamels, 36 in December, experienced something of a career renaissance with the Cubs after being traded over from the Rangers prior to the 2018 non-waiver deadline. His 2019 season crumbled after he returned from an oblique injury — the lefty admits to Zolecki that he rushed back far too soon — but from the time of his trade in 2018 to this year’s IL placement he posted a 2.71 ERA with 8.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.77 HR/9 and a 49.7 percent grounder rate in 176 innings.
It’s tough to wholly ignore the 42 ugly innings that Hamels posted upon returning from that injury, though. After allowing just nine homers, issuing 35 walks and hitting three batters in his first 99 2/3 innings of the season, Hamels served up eight homers, yielded 21 walks and plunked four batters in those final 42 frames. The result was a woeful 5.79 ERA in that stretch of 10 starts, leaving him with a combined 3.81 ERA in 141 2/3 innings in 2019.
It’s worth emphasizing that being open to a one-year deal and strictly preferring a one-year deal aren’t the same thing. Hamels may be open to a one-year arrangement, but that doesn’t limit him to signing for only a single season. Most contenders would surely prefer a one-year term, but it’s possible that there’ll be enough interest to create multiple two-year offers from World Series hopefuls. The fact that the Cubs opted not to make him a qualifying offer, thus absolving him of the burden of draft-pick compensation, only makes him more appealing to contenders with rotation needs.
Regardless of contract length, the four-time All-Star’s comments make it clear that he has no plans to sign on as a veteran mentor for a rebuilding club: “I just want to have the opportunity to get to the postseason, just so that I can try to win.”