Are the Braves Already in Trouble in the NL East Because of Cole Hamels?

The Braves are coming off two straight 90-win seasons and NL East titles. And they hoped to improve the team this offseason by signing free agent Cole Hamels.

To solidify a rotation mostly made up of young guys, the Braves signed the 2008 World Series MVP to a one-year, $18 million contract. The signing was risky, though, as Hamels missed time last season with an oblique injury. And the pitcher’s signing isn’t getting off to a great start.

Why did the Braves sign Cole Hamels?

The Braves signed Hamels to a one-year deal to replace the rotation spot filled last year by Dallas Keuchel, who they signed last June. The team hopes the veteran Hamels can serve as a mentor to his younger rotation-mates while providing them with a strong start every fifth day. Atlanta also hopes Hamels eats up some innings to prevent the younger starters from having to throw too many pitches and keep their workload in check. 

The Braves’ potential high-risk, high-reward signing. As Hamels is 36 years old and on the downside of his career. He managed to make it through six innings in just two of his final 10 starts in 2019.

The Braves may already be in trouble with Hamels

The Braves should be worried about their investment in Hamels. Before he even reported to Spring Training, he reported shoulder discomfort. He stayed home in Dallas when the team reported to camp in Florida, and he is expected to be re-evaluated in early March. Manager Brian Snitker said Hamels is “going to be behind” because he “irritated his [shoulder] doing some weighted ball exercises” during the winter.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos confirmed Hamels won’t be ready at the start of the regular season because he’ll need time to build himself up. But Anthopoulos said Hamels is “not concerned” and just needs to give his shoulder time to “calm down.”

The injury may be even more concerning because he dealt with shoulder fatigue late last season. Anthopoulos has said Hamels’ current discomfort is unrelated to this issue. He alleges it was caused by the pitcher overdoing it in workouts this winter. When asked about his health in late January, Hamels said he’s focused on being “stronger as the season goes on.”

The rest of the Braves’ rotation

In addition to Keuchel, the Braves lost Julio Teheran in free agency. This represents nearly 300 innings the Braves must replace. They were counting on Hamels taking care of most of their innings. Now they’ll need other players to step up.

Mike Soroka is probably the best of the young starters. The 22-year-old is entering his second full season in the majors. Coming off a rookie year, he went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 29 starts. After that breakout performance, the Braves expect him to be the team’s best starter, with or without Hamels.

Max Fried is another young pitcher with potential. The 26-year-old is coming off his first full season in the majors as well. He’s appeared in 33 games, including 30 starts. Fried went 17-6 and struck out 173 batters in 165.2 innings.

The biggest knock against him last season was his 4.02 ERA. But this was partially a result of him giving up 21 home runs. If he can bring down that number and give up fewer runs, he can form a strong young core of the Braves rotation for years to come.