Why Cubs didn't tender Cole Hamels a qualifying offer


Cole Hamels is officially a free agent.

According to multiple reports, the Cubs didn’t tender Hamels a qualifying offer ahead of Monday’s deadline. Thus, he’s hitting the open market and able to sign with any team, as free agency kicked off on Monday.

Players are eligible to receive qualifying offers if they spent the entire season with one team and if they haven’t previously received it in their career. It’s one-year deal worth the mean salary of MLB’s 125 highest-paid players — i.e. $17.8 million this offseason.

If a player is tendered a qualifying offer, they have 10 days to accept or reject it. If the latter occurs, teams receive draft pick compensation if/when the player signs with a new team in free agency.

The Cubs tendered qualifying offers to Dexter Fowler (2016-17 offseason) and Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis (2017-18 offseason) in recent years. They would’ve been welcomed returns to the Cubs, but each were seeking multi-year deals and the Cubs knew the offers would be rejected. Thus, they tendered each offer so they wouldn’t lose Fowler, Arrieta and Davis for nothing.

By that logic, wouldn’t it have made sense for the Cubs to also tender Hamels a qualifying offer? Well, not exactly.

Hamels is 35 (he’ll turn 36 in December), older than any of the three aforementioned players when they received a qualifying offer from the Cubs. Age is obviously just a number, and Hamels showed in 2019 he still has something left in the tank.

However, it was also a tale of two seasons for the left-hander: pre-injury and post-injury. Before suffering a left oblique strain on June 28, Hamels had a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts. In 10 starts after he returned, he posted a 5.79 ERA, struggling with his command.

Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong in 2020, showing that his post-injury woes aren’t the real him and merely a result of how tough it was to get into a groove down the stretch.

“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 of the season. “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.”

Teams will be interested in Hamels on the open market, and based on his comments he would be open to a Cubs reunion. His age and second half struggles may work against him in any negotiations but a one-year, $17.8 million offer would be very enticing for Hamels.

For the Cubs, it would put them back in the same place as last offseason when they picked up Hamels’ $20 million option for 2019.

Hamels’ option wasn’t the sole reason for the Cubs’ much-discussed 2019 budget constraints, but it played a part. And even though they have a number of players coming off the books this winter, things will still be tight. Kris Bryant and Javier Báez will receive raises in arbitration, and the Cubs will also be looking for upgrades at second base, center field and in the bullpen.

The Cubs could look to bring Hamels back for less than $17.8 million. He provides the team with a veteran presence in the clubhouse, and they could do a whole lot worse rotation-wise than a healthy Hamels.

But if he elects to sign elsewhere, on a deal worth more than they’re willing to offer, the Cubs will have to live with the fact they lost him for nothing.

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