Cole Hamels isn’t quite ready to hang it up.
According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, Hamels’ agent John Boggs said this week that the soon-to-be 38-year-old intends to keep pitching after undergoing shoulder surgery and expects to be ready for game action by late summer 2022.
Hamels, an integral part of the Philadelphia Phillies’ 2008 championship and five-year division title run from 2007-11, made one start in 2020 with the Atlanta Braves before shoulder and triceps injuries ended his season. Then, after a long offseason that didn’t see the southpaw sign until early August, Hamels inked a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers that would pay him $1 million guaranteed, plus an extra $200,000 for each start he made with the club.
As it turned out, Hamels wouldn’t receive any such extra money — he suffered a season-ending injury for the second consecutive year while ramping up his workload in simulated games.
Hamels had received a one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves back in 2020 — reportedly about twice as much as the Phillies had offered. It goes without saying that any deal he signs in 2021 would figure to resemble his Dodgers deal far more than it would his Braves deal, due to the obvious injury concern, and it would likely be a minor-league deal.
Much of the interest in the lefty stems from his successful 2019 campaign with the Chicago Cubs, in which he posted a 3.81 earned run average in 141 2/3 innings. He also posted a 2.36 ERA to conclude 2018 after being traded to Chicago from the Texas Rangers. Any team signing Hamels in 2022 would not expect that level of production, but an approximation of that success could provide a boost to clubs with needs at the back end of the rotation, either now or when injuries inevitably arise.
Could the Phillies be one of those teams? The rotation for 2022 seems to be largely set, with Cy Young finalist Zack Wheeler, bounceback-hopeful Aaron Nola, perhaps the Phillies’ greatest surprise of 2021 in Ranger Suárez, injury returnee Zach Eflin and trade deadline acquisition Kyle Gibson.
But each of those starters — yes, even the Cy Young finalist — comes with question marks that could at least motivate the Phillies to consider adding depth, whether or not Hamels is the one to accomplish that feat.
Wheeler led MLB last year with 213 1/3 innings, 142 1/3 more than he threw the previous season. Nola’s peripherals suggest an ascension to the mean, but that’s hardly a lock. Suárez can’t possibly be as dominant as he was in 2021 (or can he?), though to be fair, anything other than a catastrophic regression would still make him an effective starter. Eflin could miss the start of the season as he recovers from knee surgery, and Gibson had a 7.31 September ERA to cap what was considered by many a somewhat fluky season.
It’s an intentionally cynical outlook, but the point stands. As for depth, Bailey Falter showed flashes in 2021, and he figures to factor into the equation. Beyond him, the Phillies are limited. Hans Crouse? Adonis Medina? Francisco Morales?
And then there’s the experience factor. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski even alluded to the fact that the Phillies might need a roster shake-up in his end-of-season press conference, and perhaps an experienced veteran who has won before in Philadelphia is an appealing concept.
Emphasis on “perhaps,” however, because in the end, if Hamels can’t stay healthy, an investment would be ill-fated. But pitching is always volatile, so it’s very possible a need arises come late summer, when — if things go right — Hamels will be ready. If so, don’t completely rule out a reunion.
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