Red-hot Cubs bolster rotation by trading for Hamels
Three years ago Wednesday, Cole Hamels threw a 13-strikeout, two-walk no-hitter at Wrigley Field in his final start for the Philadelphia Phillies, who traded him later that week to Texas. On Thursday, days out from another trade deadline, the Chicago Cubs brought Hamels back to Wrigley – where they will lean on the veteran lefty to help lock down the National League Central title and carry them deep into October.
The Cubs reportedly struck a deal with the Rangers to acquire Hamels, 34, for low-level minor-leaguers. The deal, which would also include the Rangers sending cash to offset part of the $10 million in 2018 salary still owed to Hamels, was unofficial pending medical information.
But if the deal goes through, the Cubs will be banking on Hamels’ strong road numbers this season – 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA and an opponents’ OPS of .697 in 10 starts. He is 1-7 with a 6.41 ERA and an opponents’ OPS of .911 at the Rangers’ hitter-friendly Globe Life Park – and has an extensive postseason pedigree. For his career, Hamels, a four-time all-star, is 7-6 with a 3.48 ERA in October and was the MVP of both the NL Championship Series and World Series in 2008 as the ace of the Phillies.
“He has pitched in some pretty big games [and] he’s done very well,” Cubs Manager Joe Maddon told reporters Thursday, as the Hamels talks were heating up. “He’s a great competitor. He has great stuff. He competes, and he knows what he’s doing.”
Hamels carried a 3.61 ERA at the end of June, before a rough July (1-3, 11.12 ERA) sent his ERA climbing and his price dropping. His Rangers contract contained a partial no-trade clause, but the Cubs were not among the teams he could block. He has a $20 million team option for 2019, with a $6 million buyout.
Following a walk-off win Thursday, the Cubs (59-42) boasted the best record in the NL and held a 2 1/2-game lead in the Central over the Milwaukee Brewers, who had been in first place for most of the past two months until the Cubs caught and passed them two weeks ago. Earlier Thursday, the Brewers made a trade to acquire closer Joakim Soria from the Chicago White Sox, adding him to an already-formidable bullpen.
The Cubs, meantime, had been unable to solve their own rotation woes, with Yu Darvish out of action since late May and Tyler Chatwood seemingly incapable of completing six innings. Darvish and Chatwood were the centerpieces of the Cubs’ offseason, as the two free agent signees cost a total of $164 million. In addition, both Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana, holdovers from the 2017 rotation that helped carry the Cubs to the NLCS, have regressed.
In the midst of a relatively weak trade market for starting pitching, the Cubs were one of the teams pursuing Blue Jays lefty J.A. Happ, whom the New York Yankees acquired earlier Thursday from the Blue Jays.
Around the same time as the Yankees’ trade for Happ, Chatwood struggled through another rocky start at Wrigley, walking six Arizona Diamondbacks batters and failing to make it out of the fifth inning; the Cubs bailed him out with a walk-off win on an Anthony Rizzo home run.
The Cubs apparently had seen enough. By the end of the day, they had completed the deal for Hamels.