Posted on November 2, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
After a season that would be considered disappointing by their standards, the Chicago Cubs have wasted no time in getting to work this offseason. The first item on their agenda is the starting rotation. On Friday, the Cubs picked up the 2019 option for Cole Hamels, bringing him back to the north side of Chicago for $20 million. The Cubs also traded away lefty Drew Smyly to the Texas Rangers for a player to be named later.
The Cubs only acquired Hamels from the Rangers last July in hopes of boosting their rotation for the stretch run. The lefty did just that, going 4-3 with a 2.36 ERA in 12 starts for the Cubs. Prior to the trade, Hamels appeared to be on the decline. In his 20 starts for the Rangers, he posted a modest 4.72 ERA. However, a change of scenery helped him turn his season around. The Cubs are now hoping the 34-year old has at least one more good season left in the tank.
“Cole was such a breath of fresh air for us,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said of Hamels after the season. “He contributed tremendously on the field and off the field. He was great — an engaged, positive, accountable presence in that clubhouse who cares about his teammates and helps make them better. He’s absolutely someone we’d love to have as part of the mix going forward.”
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Rather than paying Hamels a $6 million buyout, the Cubs chose to exercise the $20 million option on his contract. The two sides reportedly discussed an extension that would have involved keeping Hamels without exercising the option. In the end, the Cubs simply decided to pick up the option and give Hamels $20 million for one more full year of service.
With Hamels staying, Chicago’s rotation for 2019 is more or less set in stone if everyone is healthy. Joining Hamels will be Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and Yu Darvish. Needless to say, that rotation has a chance to be one of the best in baseball next season. Of course, Darvish is questionable from a health perspective after making just eight starts in 2018. However, the Cubs also have Tyler Chatwood on their roster. Those two combined for 39 starts this past season and both can function either out of the bullpen or in the rotation.
With the Cubs being seven deep in their rotation, there was little need to keep Smyly around. The Cubs gave Smyly a two-year, $10 million deal last winter. However, he ended up missing the entire season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Trading him to Texas will save the Cubs $7 million, making it a little easier to pay the $20 million to Hamels.
Smyly, meanwhile, hasn’t pitched in a big league game since 2016, missing two full seasons because of elbow trouble. However, he’s still only 29 years old. He also owns a 3.74 career ERA over five seasons with the Tigers and Rays. If healthy, Smyly could provide some stability and a veteran presence in the Texas rotation, as the Rangers look to begin a full-scale rebuild this offseason.
Of course, the biggest piece of news is Hamels staying with the Cubs. It’s fair to question whether Hamels is worth $20 million per season at this point in his career. However, he pitched like a frontline starter the last two months of the season. If he can continue to do so for one more season, the Cubs will feel he’s well worth the money.