Cubs looking to deal, but Cole Hamels sounds like a long shot


Cubs looking to deal, but Cole Hamels sounds like a long shot

The Cubs are looking to deal, but trading for Cole Hamels by the July 31 deadline still sounds like a long shot.

Hamels throwing the first no-hitter against the Cubs in 50 years doesn’t really change the calculus for Theo Epstein’s front office. The Philadelphia Phillies weren’t sold on Javier Baez heading into this injury-interrupted season, and it’s hard to convince anyone that Starlin Castro is a player worth rebuilding around now.

“I don’t necessarily think we’re close to trading for a big contract,” Epstein said before Monday’s 9-8 win over the Colorado Rockies at Wrigley Field. “Certainly, in our position, right now it’s not necessarily something that we’re close to – giving up a ton of talent and taking on a big contract.

“Maybe that changes between now and Friday, but right now we’re not close to something like that.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs catcher David Ross has 'Babe Ruth' moment against Phillies]

Hamels is guaranteed $73.5 million over the next three years, plus about $8.5 million for the rest of this season. The Cubs have been resistant to the idea of paying the price in terms of dollars and prospects for the 2008 World Series MVP, figuring it makes more sense to just buy another frontline pitcher in free agency.

Assuming the Cubs can operate with that much financial flexibility. Epstein’s baseball operations department has less than $5 million to play with at the trade deadline, a built-in cushion for a payroll that can essentially be broken out as $100 million plus the $20 million leftover from last year’s Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes.

The Cubs made a waiver claim on Hamels last August, but couldn’t work out a deal as the Phillies pulled back their homegrown, face-of-the-franchise lefty, letting the trade rumors hang over this entire season.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Since then, the Cubs have graduated Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber to the big leagues, making them virtually untouchable. The upper levels of their farm system don’t have the same blue-chip prospects right now.

If you were trading for Hamels, wouldn’t it have happened by now?

“I don’t know,” Epstein said. “Deadlines are there for a reason. There’s always a flurry of activity right before the deadline. Teams’ bargaining positions tend to move towards the middle the closer you get to the deadline.”

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers are reportedly the frontrunners to land Hamels, who made history on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field and erased any doubts about his stuff.

“I think he was a pretty good pitcher before he no-hit us,” Epstein said. “He came out throwing 96 (mph) in the first inning. It was pretty clear he was trying to make a point. Point well made.

“I think he wanted to show that he’s still pretty good, even after a couple rough starts. He could have made the point against someone else but…we were in the way.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.