The Chicago Cubs have made a move to bolster their starting rotation. On Thursday evening, the Cubs sent a package of low-level minor leaguers to the Texas Rangers in exchange for four-time All-Star Cole Hamels.
This move was exactly what the Cubs needed after their $126 million investment, Yu Darvish, hit the disabled list in May and has not pitched in the big leagues since. In addition to Darvish’s health struggles, the majority of the Cubs’ starting rotation has searched for consistency much of the year.
Entering play on Thursday, the Cubs’ rotation was sporting the seventh best ERA in the National League at 4.01. While that mark is fairly solid, the club’s 4.73 FIP ranks 14th, just ahead of the Cincinnati Reds. To make matters worse, Chicago’s starting staff has amassed a 4.19 BB/9 mark this season, the highest in the NL, while at the same time sporting the 12th best K/9 (7.60) in the league.
While now well into his mid-30’s, Hamels owns a long track record of success. Since his rookie campaign of 2006, Hamels has racked up over 2,400 big league innings, logging a career 3.43 ERA. In his 13-year career, Hamels has shown flashes of a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.
The veteran left-hander has four All-Star selections on his resume, 2007, 2011, 2012 and 2016. In his most recent breakout season, Hamels posted a 15-5 record and 3.32 ERA in 200.2 innings. To go along with that, Hamels struck out 200 batters, walking just 77. Those numbers equate to 9.0 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9.
Since his last All-Star selection, Hamels has taken a step backward. In 44 starts and 262.1 innings, Hamels owns a 4.43 ERA and ERA-plus of just 108. Coupled with that is Hamels lone complete game in a season and a half, decreased strikeout rate (7.5 K/9) and inflated home run rate of 1.4 HR/9.
Despite those troubling numbers, it seems Hamels has rebounded slightly in 2018. Currently, the southpaw owns a 22.7 percent strikeout rate, a number up from 17.1 percent last season while at the same time dropping his walk rate to 8.4 percent from 8.6 percent last season.
In addition to those promising numbers, Hamels has gaudy splits this season. Across 59 innings in his home ballpark, Hamels is sporting a 6.41 ERA as opposing hitters are slashing .289/.356/.555 off the left-hander. To worsen that, Hamels has yielded 16 home runs and 13 doubles at home while walking 20 batters and striking out 53.
On the road, Hamels is a totally different pitcher. In 55.1 innings away from home, Hamels owns a 2.93 ERA and is holding opponents to a .220/.315/.382 slash line. He has also limited batters to seven home runs and struck out 61 while walking 22.
Overall, this deal is in-line with how the Cubs’ season has gone this year. In April, Chicago projected to have one of the best rotations in baseball. That, however, has not worked out, forcing the Cubs’ front office to trade for back-end depth.
While this move goes a long way to help the Cubs’ chances of making it deep into the playoffs, it could also give them depth in case of injury in 2019. Albeit a steep price to pay, Hamels has a team option for 2019 on his contract. That cost is $20 million, relegating that option to an emergency plan only as the Cubs battle the luxury tax threshold.
As for 2018, this deal could spell the end of Tyler Chatwood in the starting rotation. The right-hander, who was signed to a three-year, $38 million deal last winter, is sporting a walk rate of 19 percent, which would be far-and-away the highest of his career of it holds. Even with Darivsh on the DL, Chatwood will no doubt be relegated to the bullpen or placed on the DL with a phantom injury in order to find himself once again.
This move opens it so many possibilities for the Cubs. After acquiring swing-man Jesse Chavez earlier this month and the return of Eddie Butler, the Cubs now have multiple relievers that can go more than one inning. In addition, with Hamels now on the roster and a healthy Darvish at some point in the future, Montgomery can go back to the bullpen, further bolstering the ‘pen. Obviously that would mean the end of the Triple-A Iowa shuttle that has propped the Cubs’ bullpen up for much of this season. Many fans are no doubt happy to see that — despite the success — because it gives the Cubs MLB established arms for the postseason.
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