When the Cubs swung a trade last season for Cole Hamels, it was to fill a gap left in their rotation by the ineffectiveness of Tyler Chatwood and the injury to Yu Darvish. Despite looking at the time like a shadow of himself, Hamels pitched for the Cubs almost as well as he had when he no-hit them with the Phillies three years prior.
Reinvigorated by the change of scenery and a mechanical tweak that allowed him to better hide the ball, the left-hander worked to a 2.36 ERA across 12 starts for the Cubs. He was at his best in August, when he took home National League Pitcher of the Month Honors of August by recording an 0.69 ERA across 39 innings.
Even with Darvish presumably healthy in 2019, the Cubs still needed to fill out their rotation after sending Chatwood to the bullpen to figure things out. Forced to make a move, they picked up Hamels’ $20 million club option and made him the fourth highest paid member of the club at age 35.
Banking on Hamels having tapped into extra fuel reserves rather than revving through fumes, the Cubs rolled out a starting rotation of three left-handers, two of whom were already in their mid-30’s. Theo Epstein and the front office felt confident in Hamels’ ability to provide a solid season even if his performance wasn’t on par with what he’d shown post-trade.
The southpaw has rewarded that faith through 13 starts, pitching as well as he has since before leaving Philly and providing the Cubs with a consistent mid-rotation option. His velocity is down, but only slightly, and the overall results have been good enough to spark an interesting notion about Hamels’ future in Chicago.
While their arbitration-eligible players will become significantly more expensive next season, the Cubs have multiple contracts coming off the books. At the same time, the front office will have the benefit of a revenue boost from the new Marquee Network that will allow them to stay near the top of the league in payroll spending.
In order to replace Hamels, who is set to become a free agent after this season, the Cubs would either need to call upon Chatwood to step up or bring in a free agent to fill out the starting staff. To bypass that headache, wouldn’t it make sense to just ink Hamels to a two- or three-year contract worth somewhere around $30-40 million?
I mean, after his eight sparkling innings against the Cardinals on Friday in which he struck out 10, Hamels now owns a 2.81 ERA with 148 strikeouts across 154 innings as a Cub. His career numbers at Wrigley — 1.83 ERA with 127 strikeouts across 128 innings — are even better, though some of that came in his younger days.
Those results, both historical and more recent, are the mark of a pitcher who has plenty left in the tank and can continue to provide a solid volume of innings even into his late 30’s. It’s also possible Hamels could command more in free agency than the Cubs are willing to offer, but we have seen free agents take discounts to join a winning club and the Cubs have been particularly successful on that front.
Hamels no doubt wants to keep pitching for a contender as he closes out his career and he obviously loves pitching at the Friendly Confines. Seems like a good fit to me, now we’ll just have to wait and see if the Cubs feel the same.