It is an indisputable fact that the Dodgers need to sign one of Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg this off-season. It’s been seven years since the last big FA pitching splash when Zack Greinke was given a then-record deal for right-handed pitchers.
However, even if one of those aces is rightfully acquired by Los Angeles, there’s a chance it may not be enough. I’m not talking about getting another top-tier ace, but rather a more affordable veteran to lock down the back half of the rotation.
Andrew Friedman reiterated that the Dodgers plan on having Julio Urías in their starting rotation next season. As it stands, it's Urías, Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, and Kenta Maeda in the rotation. He said Ross Stripling will have a chance to compete for a spot.
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgecastillo) November 13, 2019
Now I am in no way dismissing Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin. They were both superb last year, and one or both could have a breakout season that locks down the rotation (and perhaps the bullpen too). But I’m not sure I want to put too much pressure on both of them, and thus be potentially shorthanded in the event that one or both spend time in the minors. (And I’m sorry…Kenta Maeda belongs in the bullpen, as always.)
One option to consider is that of veteran left-hander and 2008 NLCS and World Series MVP Cole Hamels. Now that his seven-year deal inked with the Phillies back in 2013 is finally expiring (albeit after trades to the Rangers and Cubs), he is actually in talks of reuniting with his original team. But for a rotation insurance option, he warrants consideration from the Dodgers.
I usually put a lot of weight on postseason pedigree, perhaps irrationally so. But in this case, the track record is substantive enough to fairly judge. In 100.1 innings of October work, Hamels has a 7-6 record and a 3.41 ERA. He has a history of being a big-game pitcher, as he demonstrated against the Dodgers themselves in the 2008 NLCS, en route to the Phillies’ World Series title.
Obviously, Hamels wouldn’t fuel a championship run in 2020 like he did in 2008, but his experience in the biggest month of the season is an unquestionable plus. Especially in a dream rotation led by Cole/Strasburg and Buehler, having him lurk as a #3 or #4 starter in any playoff series would be reassuring.
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) November 9, 2019
More immediate to consider is his regular season play as of late. In his prime in Philadelphia, Hamels was a frequent All-Star, winning 10 or more games in six of his nine full seasons there. But that was many years ago, and sure enough, now well into his thirties, he has been in relative decline since being dealt from Philadelphia to Texas in 2015. His ERAs are often above 3.00 as opposed to below in his prime, and like any aging pitcher, his velocity dipped as well.
In spite of that regression, however, he managed a resurgent season in 2019. By WAR, it was his best since his All-Star 2016 season in Texas, at 2.5. Even though the Cubs disappointed as a whole, Hamels revived his signature changeup, which yielded an 11.6 RAA. He also used his fastball and cutter more alongside his signature pitch. As a result, his hard-hit rate went down significantly, coughing up just 17 home runs all season (less than both Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander).
Given Hamels is open to pitching on a one-year deal, he thus makes for a reasonable option to provide rotational depth. Personally, I’m in the “take or leave” mindset with the former Phillie ace. I’m a bit more curious to see if the Dodgers could land a name starter in exchange for one of the big position players rumored to be on the move like Corey Seager, Enrique Hernandez or Joc Pederson.
All the same, I will never object to investing in more starting pitching, and one year of Cole Hamels sounds like a safe bet. On a trivial note, Hamels coming here would continue the odd-but-satisfying trend of 2008 Phillies migrating to Los Angeles in the twilight of their careers. Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Joe Blanton, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, etc. If you can beat them, join them, I guess.