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Another perspective on signing Cole Hamels

The former Phillies ace may very well be washed up, but there are still reasons to give him a chance.

Philadelphia Phillies vs New York Yankees, 2009 World Series Set Number: X83178 TK1 R2 F50

Yesterday, Ethan Witte wrote a piece arguing that the Phillies should not sign Cole Hamels. It’s a great article, and I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t already. Ethan makes several excellent points as to why Cole Hamels probably doesn’t have enough left in the tank to help the Phillies in 2021, and it’s enough to make even the most ardent Hamels defender take pause.

However, I want to provide a different perspective on the matter, because – despite all evidence to the contrary – I still want the Phillies to consider Hamels.

I’m not delusional. I know that Cole Hamels is unlikely to be much of a difference-maker, especially considering his age, his recent shoulder injury, and his poor performance over the final two months of 2019. There’s also the fact that he didn’t look spectacular during his showcase yesterday, and he’ll take another month to get back into major league shape.

Obviously, the Phillies shouldn’t sign Cole Hamels if he doesn’t look like a major league-caliber pitcher anymore. If he is simply bad now, it’s impossible to make a case in his favour. But if Hamels looks good enough that any contending team deems him worthy of a major league contract (and rumor has it he is already receiving interest), then the Phillies should absolutely be in the mix to sign him. Here’s why.

It’s hard to imagine Hamels could make the team any worse

Prior to his strong outing yesterday in Miami, Matt Moore ranked last in FIP among National League starting pitchers (min. 5 games started). Chase Anderson ranked second-last, while Vince Velasquez ranked tenth-last out of 93 eligible pitchers. And even after Moore’s 9-strikeout performance against the Marlins, his FIP as a starter is still a disastrous 5.61.

In other words, the Phillies are already scraping the absolute bottom of the barrel when it comes to the back of their rotation. If Cole Hamels looks good enough that an MLB team is willing to offer him a contract, then it’s quite unlikely he could be any worse than what the Phillies already have. Moreover, Hamels comes with more upside than Velasquez, Anderson, or Moore. He may be 37 and coming off an injury, but he’s only two years removed from putting up a 2.98 ERA, 3.59 FIP, and 4.09 xFIP in 17 starts over the first half of 2019.

The Phillies can make major improvements and still find room for Hamels

The Phillies need to make some major improvements if they want to seriously compete with the Mets for the NL East crown, and it’s unlikely that Hamels will represent a major improvement. But signing Hamels won’t stop them from making more significant acquisitions.

The Phillies need to upgrade their bullpen, their starting rotation, and their offense. They probably don’t, however, have the prospect capital or the payroll flexibility to make major upgrades in all three areas. Dave Dombrowski’s biggest acquisitions at the trade deadline could be a couple of bullpen arms, an impactful bat, and even a decent fourth starter, and the Phillies would still have room to slot Cole Hamels into the fifth spot in the rotation (with Vince Velasquez and Bailey Falter serving as long relievers and spot starters).

There’s a good chance that he brings in more money than he costs

While we don’t know exactly how much money John Middleton is willing to add to the payroll, we know that Dombrowski doesn’t have a limitless budget to work with. Cole Hamels will not command very much money, considering his age, injury history, and the fact that he’ll only be able to make a handful of starts. And more importantly, there’s a good chance that he will bring in more money to the Phillies than he will cost.

Okay, I should clarify that I know very little about the economics of baseball. But if there is any player out there who can earn money for this franchise, it’s Hamels. Cole Hamels pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies will bring thousands of fans out to the ballpark and millions more to the TV broadcast. He’ll also be a goldmine in terms of the advertising.

And speaking of advertising, Hamels will surely be able to earn more money in sponsorship deals if he signs in Philadelphia than if he were to sign in any other city. The Phillies could use that as a negotiating tool to drive his price down even further,

The potential of winning with Cole Hamels outweighs any possible downsides

This might be the most important point to me, although perhaps it’s the least rational. I know that Hamels might stink, but if he doesn’t, it would be so, so incredible. It’s hard to find the words to describe how exciting it would be to watch Cole Hamels have a strong start in Phillies pinstripes. And to see the Phillies finally end their postseason drought with Hamels as a veteran presence at the back of the rotation? That would make for one of the most magical Phillies stories of my lifetime.

To me, that kind of payoff is worth the risk, no matter how unlikely it may be.

Can’t we just have one nice thing?

One thing I’ve really enjoyed about the recent Cole Hamels discourse is seeing so many fans express their attachment to the human side of baseball. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people commenting on Ethan’s article saying that they would want Hamels on the team even if he isn’t very good anymore.

Obviously, winning matters to me. However, what I really want is to watch a winning Phillies team full of players that I have an emotional attachment to. For example, I want the Phillies to win with homegrown success stories, like Rhys Hoskins and Zach Eflin, and likeable veterans like Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen. It bothers me when I see fans call for all four of those players to be traded, because I care about those guys and I want to watch them play for the Phillies.

Cole Hamels is both a homegrown Phillies success story and a likeable veteran, and there’s no one I would rather watch play for the Phillies once again. Hamels would make this team more enjoyable to watch, and ultimately, isn’t that what baseball is all about?

I know it’s a long shot. I’m perfectly aware of all the reasons that Hamels might not be good anymore. And if he truly isn’t a competent major league, then no, I don’t want the Phillies to sign him.

All I’m really trying to say is that it’s not preposterous to want Cole Hamels to return to Philadelphia. So to all the fans out there who still want to give Hamels a shot – and I know how many of you there are – I hear you.