Cole Hamels knew this day would come.
He is now that veteran who can pass on a wealth of information gained over a 14-year professional career to a group of young up-and-coming pitchers. The Braves have such a staff and added Hamels to the rotation with a one-year, $18 million contract Wednesday.
Does Hamels see himself a mentor? Yes.
“I’ve seen it happen and I knew at one point, because I had a ton of veteran pitchers that I played with that always said if you play this game long enough, you’ll have to make a change from just being one of those guys who can quote, unquote fly by the seat of his pants and hide behind everyone else and just get your results and try to play the game game of baseball with just the focus on baseball,” Hamels said.
The Braves have a wealth of young pitchers. Mike Soroka and Max Fried made significant strides last season and became a part of the rotation. Sean Newcomb was relegated to the bullpen, but could have another chance at being a starter. Behind them are Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and Touki Toussaint, all of who are promising prospects.
Hamels was once that young pitcher when he came up with the Phillies, starting at age 22, where he spent the first 10 major league seasons. He was the 2008 National League Championship Series and World Series MVPs and was named to three of his four All-Star teams in Philadelphia. He played for the Rangers and Cubs in his 30s before he now joins the Braves as he turns 36 this month.
Former Braves relief pitcher Eric O’Flaherty posted on social media about the role Hamels could play.
“If he can pass his changeup on to Newcomb.... that alone is worth 18m,” O’Flaherty posted on Twitter.
Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said he signed Hamels for what he can still do on the mound with the hopes of bettering a rotation with an eye on the postseason and a World Series title. However, he acknowledged that there is added value in bringing in an experienced pitcher.
“Look there is added value in what we know of the person, who he is, the example he sets, the way he goes about it,” Anthopoulos said. “There is no doubt in my mind, in whatever form that is going to show up, it doesn’t have to be in meetings and being vocal but just by being himself, I think Max Fried will get better seeing him and being around him. I think Soroka will get better. I’ve just seen that over the years. Players can make other players better just in the way they go about things. How you quantify that is hard. I do think there is real value in that, especially when we are building a young core we hope is contending for years to come.”
Hamels has a career record of 163-121 with a 3.42 ERA. Last season with the Cubs, he went 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 141-2/3 innings over 27 starts. He had a 2.98 ERA over 17 starts before he straining a left oblique in June.
The Braves lost two veterans from the starting rotation in Dallas Keuchel and Julio Teheran. Hamels will replace part of that experience, and Anthopoulos has not ruled out adding another starter during what has already been a busy offseason. However, the prospects will get a long look before and during the coming season.
Hamels will help where he can.
“You have to start to getting with it and there is more to this game,” Hamels said. “Being a leader is always something but also knowing how to actually be the type of role model that can actually teach players. Because there is something to it, when you can actually be out on the field with them and in the dugout with them, I think there is a better connection that they can learn and really hopefully grasp it a lot better than say listening to someone tell them over and over and they are not really in the game mode and going through the same stresses that they are.”
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