DETROIT – Cole Hamels, a veteran starting pitcher who has spent 15 season in MLB, is planning to return to the mound this season. I think the Detroit Tigers should give him a call.
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Hamels, 37, is expected to work out for several teams Friday. It’s unclear if the Tigers will be among them.
But they absolutely should.
This isn’t just a matter of due diligence, either. The Tigers are trying to build a winning culture, and showed obvious signs of growth throughout the first half. After posting the worst record in baseball through 33 games, they finished two straight months with winning records and have won 31 of 58.
Unfortunately, the starting rotation is showing a couple of cracks. Though Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal have been solid at the top, injuries to Matt Boyd and Spencer Turnbull have cut into the organization’s depth.
Boyd isn’t expected to return until August, at the earliest, and Turnbull’s timeline is even more unclear. As a result, the final three rotation spots are filled out by Jose Urena, Matt Manning and Wily Peralta.
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Urena was the team’s primary offseason pitching investment, and Manning is a top 50 prospect in MLB. Yet it’s Peralta who has solidified himself as the No. 3 option in the rotation.
That says a lot about how much the Tigers could use Hamels.
It’s entirely possible that Peralta will come back down to earth. Even if he doesn’t, Urena has allowed 27 earned runs in his last 17.2 innings while giving up 31 hits, 13 walks and nine homers. He has just 14 strikeouts over that span. The numbers are unacceptable.
Manning hasn’t been nearly as bad, but his 6% swinging strike rate, 41% hard contact rate, 5.35 FIP and 1.591 WHIP show he’s not quite ready to face MLB hitters.
Is Hamels the answer to all the team’s rotational problems? No, definitely not. He only made one start last season and hasn’t been his elite self since 2016. But he can’t be worse than what the Tigers have right now.
In 10 seasons between 2007 and 2016, Hamels played in four All-Star games and finished top 10 in Cy Young voting four times. He posted a 3.26 ERA, 1.156 WHIP and 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings during that span.
He’s been considerably less dominant since, but he’s still quietly effective. Over the past four seasons, Hamels has posted a 3.94 ERA, 4.40 FIP, 1.282 WHIP and 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
That’s not great, but he would at least give the Tigers a chance to be competitive more times than not.
To be clear, it’s not a guarantee that Hamels can even maintain that level of effectiveness at age 37, especially since he’s only made one appearance since the end of 2019. But he was a 3.0 WAR pitcher in 2019, a 3.4 WAR pitcher in 2018 and a 3.0 WAR pitcher in 2017. It’s pretty clear he knows how to get batters out.
There aren’t any other minor league starters ready to break into the Tigers’ rotation, so Hamels wouldn’t be blocking a prospect. He would simply be replacing Urena or allowing Manning to return to Triple-A for more seasoning. Both options sound pretty appealing.
In a best-case scenario, if Hamels proves to be a solid back-end option, the Tigers could eventually return to a five-man rotation of Mize, Skubal, Boyd, Turnbull and Hamels, with Peralta as insurance. That would make for a competitive team down the stretch, and help the Tigers build on a strong first half.
Maybe Hamels wants to play for a playoff contender, but many of those don’t have room in their rotation for this type of risk. With the Tigers, he would have a guaranteed rotation spot through the end of the season, and a three-month platform to prove he’s still got something left in the tank.