Cubs free agent focus: Cole Hamels


With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

Barring any unforeseen moves, four pitchers are locks to open the 2020 season in the Cubs starting rotation: Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and José Quintana.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess whom the fifth pitcher will be. With that uncertainty, could the Cubs look to bring back soon-to-be 36-year-old Cole Hamels?

Hamels is a free agent for the first time in his career and is coming off an up-and-down season with the Cubs. He was the team’s most reliable starter through June, holding a 2.92 ERA in his first 16 starts.

Start No. 17 was a turning point for Hamels, as he suffered a left oblique strain while warming up for the second inning against the Reds on June 28. He recognized the strain immediately, removing himself from the game to prevent further injury.

The strain put Hamels on the shelf for a month and he wasn’t the same pitcher after returning on Aug. 3. The veteran lefty posted a 5.79 ERA in 10 starts, walking 21 batters in 42 innings while struggling with his command.

Hamels also missed a start in September with left shoulder fatigue, but he wanted one last outing to show what he’s capable of before free agency. He tossed four shutout innings on Sept. 28 against a Cardinals team that had yet to clinch the NL Central, allowing two hits while striking out eight.

“I don’t want to put that in the back of teams’ heads of how I finished,” Hamels said the day before his final start. “I think I’m capable of what I was able to do in the first half - that’s who I am - and I can still get those good results for hopefully [the Cubs], if they consider that.

“But also, for other teams to know that I’m not the type of player that’s on the regression. This is what we’re gonna expect. It’s more so what I was able to do in the first half — the type of player that I am and the results that I can get out on the field.”

[RELATED: Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere]

The Cubs elected not to tender Hamels a qualifying offer — a one-year deal worth $17.8 million — earlier this month. The offer would’ve been enticing for Hamels, but it also would’ve put further constraints on the Cubs payroll, similar to when they picked up Hamels’ $20 million option for 2019 last offseason.

Teams may be wary of giving out big money to Hamels, who strained his right oblique with the Rangers in 2017. But as a veteran with postseason experience, he’ll have many suitors and would fit well with the Braves, Phillies and Padres, to name a few teams. Having a full offseason to build his arm strength back up can only help, too.

With the Cubs’ notable payroll constraints, Hamels would have to take a discounted deal, should he and the club seek a reunion. Even so, the Cubs may elect to let Hamels walk in free agency and fill their last rotation spot internally.

Tyler Chatwood earned the right to compete for a 2020 rotation spot following his bounce back 2019 campaign. He posted a 3.76 ERA in 38 games (five starts) and was a reliable longman in the bullpen. Chatwood turns 30 in December and will make $13 million in 2020.

Adbert Alzolay flashed potential in his brief 2019 big-league stint but the most innings he’s thrown in a season is 120 1/3 (2016 in Single-A). Alzolay has dealt with injuries during his young professional career, so the Cubs will likely be cautious with his innings total in 2020.

Alec Mills (2.75 ERA, nine games/four starts) performed admirably in limited action as a swingman last season. 29-year-old Colin Rea (3.95 ERA, 26 starts) had a solid season in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League and the Cubs recently added him to the 40-man roster. Recently acquired 27-year-old righty Jharel Cotton is a bounce back candidate after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2018. 

The Cubs have no shortage of fifth starter options. None may be better than a healthy Hamels, who would fit well in the Cubs rotation next season, if the price is right.

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