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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Could Cole Hamels pass back through Philly on his way to Cooperstown?

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Hamels built the foundation of his career over a decade with Phillies

Want the latest in a recent series of hot takes that I’ve been espousing? Here goes: former Phillies star pitcher Cole Hamels is going to one day be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
He is one of 10 active players in Major League Baseball who, I believe, will be easy choices once the voting members of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America get a chance to cast ballots for them.
Hitters in the group are Albert PujolsMiguel CabreraRobinson Cano, and Mike Trout. The pitchers are Justin VerlanderZack GreinkeClayton KershawC.C. SabathiaMax Scherzer, and Hamels.
Now, I’m not saying that these are the only players currently active who will one day end up enshrined at Cooperstown. These 10 will certainly be joined by a number of others. I am really close on calling guys like Joey Votto and Chris Sale no-doubt HOFers. But I’m just not quite there yet.
Hamels should have few questioning his qualifications once the time comes. That will be especially so should he post two more years after this one that are in any way comparable to his career norms. Those will be his ages 36 and 37 seasons, and there is no sign that he is slowing down.
On Tuesday at Wrigley Field, Hamels became just the 10th left-hander to reach the 2,500 career strikeout mark. Four of the other nine, Randy Johnson (4,875), Steve Carlton (4,136), Tom Glavine (2,607), and Warren Spahn (2,583) are already Hall of Famers. Hamels and Sabathia, who has now surpassed the 3,000 mark, will surely join them one day.
In his next start, Hamels will pass Christy Mathewson for 36th place on the all-time Major League Baseball strikeout list. Before the year is out, he should pass three more Hall of Famers: Tim KeefeBob Feller, and Spahn. He could also pass two fellow lefties, Glavine and Chuck Finley, by the end of this season. That would move him into the top 25 all-time.
Hamels also has a solid postseason record on his resume. Over 17 appearances, 16 of those starts, he is 7-6 with a 3.41 ERA and has allowed 83 hits over 100.1 innings with a 93/27 K:BB ratio. 11 of the 16 have been of the Quality Start variety.
Hamels is enjoying yet another outstanding season this year in his first full season with the Chicago Cubs. He has a 6-2 record with a 2.85 ERA, 1.178 WHIP, and a 91/32 K:BB ratio while allowing just 76 hits over 91.2 innings across 15 starts.
Should he remain healthy, the lefty will be passing the 3,000 career strikeouts mark sometime in the summer of 2021. He also should be approaching or passing the 200-win mark at that point.
His career highlights will only provide an exclamation point to what will be substantial statistical milestones. Hamels was the Most Valuable Player of the 2008 NLCS and World Series. He tossed a no-hitter in his final start with the Phillies in July 2015. He is almost assuredly headed towards his fifth NL All-Star appearance.
Hamels has finished among the top ten in Cy Young Award voting four times. He appears primed to finish there again this season, and actually could take a real run at finally winning the honors. Among active pitchers, he is fifth in career B-R Pitching WAR (58.6) behind only Verlander, Greinke, Kershaw, and Sabathia.
Speaking of Cy Young, Hamels is on pace to pass the legendary pitcher himself on his way into the all-time top 20 at some point in that 2021 season.
He was quoted as follows by Jordan Bastian at MLB.com after the game in which he reached that 2,500 K’s mark:
It’s a special moment…It blows me away. I’m fortunate to be in this position. I obviously want to keep continuing and doing it as long as I possibly can.
While the question of whether or not Hamels will one day be a Hall of Famer is almost certainly answered already, there is an interesting question remaining; For which team will Hamels be pitching when he reaches that 3,000 strikeout mark?
Hamels is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this season. He is making $20 million in the final year of a six-year deal that included a club-option season which he signed while still a member of the Phillies back in July 2012.
When he signed that deal, he still had teammates with whom he had gone to war for years with, some of whom he had won a championship with like Jimmy RollinsChase UtleyRyan HowardCarlos RuizRoy Halladay, and Shane Victorino. The Phillies rotation still included Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
Hamels was quoted by the Associated Press at the time of the signing:
I understand that free agency is great, those opportunities of the unknowing. But this is the place that I call home and want to call home for a really long time. I grew up watching Tony Gwynn play and he made San Diego his home for his entire career. That’s ultimately what I want to make here in Philadelphia.”
But Victorino would be gone in less than a week. The careers of both Halladay and Lee would be cut short in less than two years. It would all fall apart so quickly for what had been a glorious era in Phillies baseball.
The other pieces of that 2008 World Series team were sent away or retired. Finally, Hamels himself was shipped off to the Texas Rangers on July 31, 2015 along with reliever Jake Diekman in exchange for a six-player package.
While for a couple of years it appeared that the Phillies had gotten a good haul for their former ace, time has not been kind to that package. Now it almost certainly could be said that the Phillies lost that trade.
Would Hamels make what would be hailed by fans as a triumphant return to the City of Brotherly Love next year? As a veteran left-hander who still appears to have 2-3 good seasons left him, he would appear to fit in perfectly with what will surely be a team that is looking to win immediately.
If Hamels does indeed reach free agency, there will be other serious suitors for his services. He has always been a target in the past of the New York Yankees. His hometown San Diego Padres would almost certainly be looking for a veteran to lead their young rotation, and want to win now as well after signing Manny Machado this past off-season.
The Cubs certainly like what they see, and would presumably love to keep him around. But with youngsters coming through their organization and considering his age and likely contract demands, there appear to be no talks happening regarding an extension at this point.
Whomever Hamels pitches with in the final few years of his career, that team will be getting a future Hall of Famer. And no matter which club that may be, his plaque at Cooperstown will certainly feature him wearing a Phillies cap. In addition to his enshrinement there, fans will get to fete him once again when he is installed on the Phillies Wall of Fame, something that should happen roughly a decade from now.

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