Sorry, folks, no storybook return to Philly for Cole Hamels

Jim Salisbury

It sounded like a great idea.

But it won't happen.

Cole Hamels is headed to the Atlanta Braves on a one-year, $18 million contract, according to ESPN. The veteran lefty had been pursued by a handful of teams, and the Phillies did have interest, but the Braves made the top bid.

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Hamels' landing with the Braves - especially on a one-year deal - will no doubt sting in Philadelphia. Hamels was drafted by the Phils in 2002 and six years later was MVP of the franchise's second World Series championship. Hamels was traded to Texas as part of a rebuild in the summer of 2015 and many fans had hoped he'd return as a free agent this winter. Even Hamels talked about a potential reunion in Philadelphia last May.

The sting is compounded by the fact that Hamels is going to an NL East rival. The Braves and Phillies play 19 times per season and Hamels could make a half-dozen or more starts per season against the Phils. Hamels has pitched against the Phils twice in his career - both last season with the Chicago Cubs - and it has not gone well. He was tagged for 18 hits and 11 runs in just six innings.

The Braves, who won the NL East each of the last two seasons, remain in go-for-it mode. They have had a busy winter, previously signing free-agent relievers Will Smith and Chris Martin and catcher Travis d'Arnaud. Hamels will be the elder statesman in a rotation that includes youngsters Mike Soroka, an All-Star at 21 last season, and Max Fried. He will be backed by a big offense that features Phillie killer Freddie Freeman and young guns Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies.

Hamels, who turns 36 this month, is no longer the top-of-the rotation pitcher he was during his prime in Philadelphia, but, if healthy, he can be a strong stabilizer in the back half of any team's rotation. He had a 3.81 ERA for the Cubs in 27 starts last season but missed a month with an oblique injury suffered in late June. Hamels was quite good before the injury, recording 2.98 ERA in 17 starts. He struggled and pitched to a 5.79 ERA in 10 starts after returning from the IL. He did not receive a qualifying offer from the Cubs so he will not cost the Braves a draft pick.

So, where do the Phillies go from here as they attempt to improve and deepen their starting rotation?

Well, they are trying to sign Zack Wheeler to work along with Aaron Nola near the top of the rotation and they continue to look for stabilizers and innings-eaters who can fill out the middle and back end of the rotation with Zach Eflin and Jake Arrieta.

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Sorry, folks, no storybook return to Philly for Cole Hamels originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

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