Last offseason, the Nationals’ Mike Rizzo went to work early on building his roster, getting catchers Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes and relief pitchers Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough. This offseason, it is the Braves, defending National League East champions, that are roster-building early.
The Braves signed free-agent lefty pitcher Cole Hamels to an $18 million contract, adding to a list of transactions. They spent $98 million this offseason by signing three relievers - Will Smith, Chris Martin and Darren O’Day - along with two catchers - Tyler Flowers and Travis d’Arnaud - and outfielder Nick Markakis.
Are the Braves finished?
The Braves are still looking for a third baseman and would like to have Josh Donaldson return, even if his contract might be in the $25 million range.
Hamels, who turns 36 on Dec. 27, joins a rotation that has Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Mike Foltynewicz and lefty Sean Newcomb, who was in the rotation in 2018 and changed to a relief role in 2019 to help settle a chaotic bullpen that used five different closers.
Soroka was 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA season and was a National League Cy Young candidate. Fried won 17 games with a 4.02 ERA. Foltynewicz’s struggles put him in the minor leagues during the season, but he was strong in September with a 1.50 ERA.
Newcomb, 26, had a 3.90 ERA in 164 innings as a starter in 2018, and last season he pitched 68 innings out of the bullpen.
Hamels had a 3.61 ERA and was a strength in the Cubs rotation until he went on the injured list with an oblique strain on June 28. When he returned, he struggled with his command (3.6 walks per nine innings) and finished with a 5.79 ERA in his final 10 starts.
Before the injury, Hamels had a streak of 22 consecutive innings without a walk. After the injury, he had 21 walks in 42 innings.
The Hamels signing means that the Braves are supposedly out of the market for another lefty, Madison Bumgarner, the former Giant looking for a four-year contract. Bumgarner’s home is in North Carolina, and the speculation was that he could sign with Atlanta to be closer to his home.
Two other Braves pitchers - Dallas Keuchel and Julio Teheran - are on the free-agent list.
The Braves are taking aim at their third consecutive NL East title in 2020.
Another NL East team, the Phillies, aren’t sitting back this offseason, either. The Phillies have reportedly signed free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract. Wheeler would join the Big Three of the Phillies rotation, which includes Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola.
A year ago, the Phillies were offseason-aggressive, picking up Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura.