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Cubs: Making Sense of the Cole Hamels Trade

The Cubs made a splash Thursday night, trading a package of players to the Texas Rangers for Cole Hamels. Austin Bloomberg discusses which players changed hands. Check it out here.

It all happened so fast.

Reports first surfaced about the Cubs and Rangers discussing Cole Hamels mid-afternoon Thursday, in the middle of what turned out to be a wild come-from-behind victory. David Bote‘s game tying two-run shot precipitated the walk-off blast by Anthony Rizzo — in his 1,000th career game. The dramatic comeback masked yet another disappointing outing by Tyler Chatwood, walking six batters while failing to get through the fifth inning.

Those grimacing numbers have become the expectation for Chatwood, who now sits on the outside of the rotation looking in. With the trade’s announcement Thursday evening it seems like a foregone conclusion that Chatwood will be replaced by Hamels in the rotation. Far from an ideal situation for the Cubs — his contract expires after the 2020 season at a hefty $12.67 million AAV — they responded to what has surprisingly become a need. Netting Hamels provides stability at the back-end of the rotation, the very thing the Cubs expected Chatwood to be.

Diving Into the Details

The exact parameters of the deal are still somewhat murky. Heading to Texas is Single-A pitcher Rollie Lacy, an 11th round pick in 2017 that has impressed this year in Myrtle Beach — but remained outside the Cubs’ Top 30 prospects. Along with Lacy, the Cubs are shipping a PTBNL, and just this morning it was announced that swing-man Eddie Butler will also be a part of the package.

The Cubs will reportedly be paying ~$5 million of the $14 million owed to Hamels (roughly $8 million for the rest of this season plus a $6 million buy out after this season). While that number sounds a little steep it’s something the Cubs can stomach, as they are still under the luxury tax threshold. They maintain the financial flexibility to make another move or two if they so desire, and eating a significant portion of the remaining salary mitigated the return package to Texas.

All told, the Cubs gave up the minimum for a veteran rental, augmenting a rotation that has failed to display consistency. And when you consider the package the Yankees just sent to the Blue Jays for fellow rental J.A. Happ (Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney), it feels even more like a victory for the Cubs.

What Hamels Gives the Cubs

While Hamels isn’t exactly having a banner season, there are encouraging characteristics that portend a revival on the North Side. Home/Road splits are the most obvious, his 2.93 road ERA with a solid strikeout and walk rate suggesting his home park has been a major factor in his overall pedestrian numbers. There’s also the encouraging reality that his fastball velocity has trended upward as the season has worn on, proving that the 34-year-old still has plenty of life left in his arm.

But the Cubs didn’t trade for Hamels because of his splits or his velocity. They are gambling (however low the risk) that a veteran with a World Series pedigree, a solid clubhouse reputation and a drive to win will coalesce when inserted into a Cubs’ roster in the midst of a playoff push. If Hamels doesn’t pan out in Chicago, the Cubs lose nothing but money. And if the gamble pays off in spectacular fashion, the Cubs will have two championships in three seasons.

Cole Hamels is a big name with a big contract and a big reputation. Yet, somehow, this move was not a big splash, or anything near blockbuster status; it was a periphery move that gave the Cubs depth at a questionable position while providing the Rangers with a couple of lottery tickets and salary relief.

Cubs fans should be elated the front office made this happen without destabilizing the current roster, crippling their budget, or giving away any top prospects.

A Six Man Rotation?

When assessing the Cubs’ rotation, it becomes difficult to know for certain what Maddon will do. Brett Taylor over at Bleacher Nation argues effectively that a six man rotation could prove positive, but it would hardly be a clean transition.

We don’t yet know when Hamels will officially arrive to Chicago or when he will make his debut (his last start was July 23). We do know that there is absolutely no trust in Chatwood, and we also know that Mike Montgomery could use a little rest in order to limit the number of innings he throws, as this year will easily be his career high. In addition, we also don’t know when Yu Darvish will be back or how effective he will be when and if he does return.

Losing Butler is the one piece that stings for the Cubs, but his departure clears up a space on the roster and also paves a clearer road for Chatwood to slot into the bullpen (albeit by way of a demotion). This is speculative at best, but lowering expectations for Chatwood and giving him a chance to refresh his mind and body might be necessary in order for him to find his footing in Chicago.

Simply put, there are more questions than answers. Will Chatwood transition to the bullpen or hit the DL on some mysterious ailment? Will the Cubs allow Monty to blow past his career innings pitched mark if he remains effective? What will the rotation look like upon Yu’s return? Can the Cubs really make a deep run with four lefties in the rotation?

Nothing is known yet, and certainly nothing is obvious. But at the end of the day, the Cubs did what a few weeks back seemed impossible: they added a quality veteran to stabilize a shaky rotation without blowing up the farm or disrupting the major league roster. This is a concerted effort to win-now while maintaining a championship window into the future.

The front office didn’t need to make a bold move, they needed to address a significant concern. And that’s just what they did.

Follow Austin Bloomberg on Twitter-Feature Photo Credit: Sporting News 

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Austin is the Lead Cubs Writer for The Loop Sports. He's a lifelong baseball junkie (due to his father) and as a former college pitcher has a particular affinity for the art of pitching. Austin loves to commute in Chicago on his bicycle, and enjoys camping and canoeing as often as possible. He attained his master's degree in Social Justice and Community Development from Loyola University Chicago in 2014.

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