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.”
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.”