WASHINGTON -- When the Phillies scouted Cole Hamels at his showcase in Texas last month, they knew two things:
1. It would take him at least 30 days, maybe longer, to be ready to pitch in the majors.
2. Signing him would be tantamount to guaranteeing him a spot in the starting rotation.
Even if the Phillies had waited for the former, they couldn’t commit to the latter. And so, although a reunion with Hamels would have been a nice story -- and they discussed it after acquiring right-hander Kyle Gibson at the trade deadline -- they passed on the 37-year-old left-hander, who agreed Wednesday to join the Los Angeles Dodgers for $1 million plus an additional $200,000 for every start he makes, according to multiple reports.
“We saw him. We liked him,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said on July 24. “He threw the ball well. I think what we have to factor in is, what can we do now knowing that Cole, as much as we like him, might not be ready for 30 to 40 days? Because if you sign him, you’re basically telling him you’re giving him a spot in the rotation. I don’t know right now if we’re in the spot where I can 100 percent say that.”
The Phillies believe they fortified the rotation by trading for Gibson and moving lefty Ranger Suarez from the bullpen to a starting role. They also remain hopeful that Zach Eflin will return within the next few weeks from right knee tendinitis, although he has not yet progressed from playing catch to throwing off a mound.
A rival scout who attended Hamels’ showcase said he looked “just OK” and “a ways away” from being ready to return to the big leagues. That’s hardly a surprise considering Hamels made one start last season for the Atlanta Braves because of a shoulder injury. Despite the lukewarm report, the scout wouldn’t rule out that Hamels could keep improving with a few minor-league tuneups.
The Phillies are thin on starter depth, especially after sending Spencer Howard to the Texas Rangers in the deal for Gibson and closer Ian Kennedy. Vince Velasquez (blister) is on the injured list, while veteran lefty Matt Moore is in the bullpen. Rookie lefty Bailey Falter would’ve been an option, but he has been on the COVID-19 restricted list and won’t be stretched back out as a starter when he returns.
Hamels would’ve been a helpful depth piece, and the Phillies could have fit him into their payroll without going over the $210 million luxury-tax threshold. But he was looking for a bigger commitment.
And if Hamels’ return to the majors in late August or early September coincides with, say, Eflin’s reinstatement from the injured list, the Phillies wouldn’t have had a spot in the rotation for the 2008 World Series MVP.