When the Cubs traded for Cole Hamels just days prior to the non-waiver deadline, he was largely viewed as a rental. The discrepancy between his performance at Globe Life Park in Arlington (6.41 ERA, 6.16 FIP, 16 of his 23 homers allowed) and his performance on the road (2.93 ERA, 4.17 FIP, seven homers) led to some speculation that he could at the very least make the Cubs think. However, few could’ve predicted this level of dominance to open his stint with the Cubs.
Through 34 innings, Hamels is sporting a masterful 0.79 ERA with a 30-to-8 K/BB ratio, no homers allowed and a 54.2 percent ground-ball rate that would be the best of his career over a full season. The 34-year-old allowed a whopping 44.9 percent hard-contact rate with the Rangers but has seen that mark plummet to 27.9 percent with the Cubs. A sub-1.00 ERA surely isn’t sustainable for the lefty, but fielding-independent metrics — 2.36 FIP, 3.19 xFIP, 3.41 SIERA — all feel he’s very legitimately improved his performance. He’s leaned far more heavily on his fastball, shying away from cutters/two-seamers and (to a lesser extent) his breaking offerings since switching uniforms.
The rapid turnaround considerably enhances the possibility that the Cubs would want to retain Hamels for the 2019 season, though as Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reports in his latest 10 Degrees column, the finances aren’t exactly straightforward. Per Passan, at the time of the trade, the Rangers agreed to pay the $6MM buyout on Hamels’ option. That money, however, wouldn’t go to the Cubs in the event that Chicago decides to exercise the option. So while some may have previously looked at Hamels as a $14MM decision for the Cubs, it’s a costlier one than that: either let the Rangers buy out the option or pay the full $20MM with no financial assistance from the left-hander’s former team.
It’s a small but dominant sample for Hamels, but if the improvements in his performance are as legitimate as they prove to be, a one-year deal worth $20MM for the Cubs would hardly be a stretch. Chicago already has plenty of starters under control for the 2019 season in Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, Drew Smyly and Mike Montgomery, though the front office could conceivably look to dump Chatwood in a swap of bad contracts and/or look at Montgomery and Smyly in long relief/sixth starter roles. Creating that level of depth in the rotation would hardly be a bad thing for the Cubs — especially with so much uncertainty surrounding Darvish, Chatwood and Smyly.
Conversely, if the Cubs opt not to pay Hamels at a premium rate for the 2019 season, the veteran’s free-agent stock will be fascinating to monitor. Much has been made of Hamels already regaining the velocity he appeared to have lost early in the season, and his recent work with the Cubs has potentially set the stage for a multi-year deal in free agency. Even one month ago, that would’ve seemed a long shot at best.
A month ago, Hamels looked like a back-of-the-rotation rental destined for a one-year deal in free agency. Now, the final month of the season and any potential postseason appearances, will prove pivotal for both Hamels and the Cubs in terms of each party’s future — to say nothing of the Rangers, who’d apparently be absolved of a $6MM commitment if Hamels remains with the Cubs.
With the caveat that things can once again change dramatically in a month, let’s see where readers stand on the issue at the moment (link to poll for Trade Rumors mobile app users)…