Cubs

Cubs: How much did Cole Hamels' no-hitter boost his trade value?

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Cubs: How much did Cole Hamels' no-hitter boost his trade value?

Cole Hamels was already one of the top arms available at Major League Baseball's trade deadline. 

Now with a no-hitter on his resume, the veteran lefty could be the No. 1 target for contenders over this next week.

Hamels obliterated the Cubs on Saturday at Wrigley Field, striking out 13 while etching his name in baseball history. How's that for jumpstarting a slow-developing trade market for Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr.?

"I'd be surprised if Ruben's phone isn't off the hook right now," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said.

Teams interested in trading for Hamels had to be scared as they saw his pitch count climb to 129, but they also undoubtedly got even more excited after Hamels flashed his tantalizing potential in a record-setting performance. Especially after the 31-year-old lefty gave up 14 earned runs over his last two starts before Saturday.

[MORE: 'Man on a mission' Cole Hamels makes no-hitter history against Cubs]

"Obviously this is the confident me and this is the me that goes out and pitches," Hamels said, admitting he didn't have that same mindset the last two times out. "Once you're able to correct it and gain the confidence that you had, you can go out there and be yourself."

Hamels has spent his whole career with the Phillies ever since they made him the 17th pick in the 2002 Draft. 

With the team in last place and his trade value about as high as it would ever get, Hamels allowed himself to admit that this isn't how he envisioned going out as a Phillie if this was, indeed, his last start for the organization.

Hamels admitted that the baseball landscape has changed and players spending their entire careers with one team like Derek Jeter (Yankees) or Chipper Jones (Braves) or Tony Gwynn (Padres) is becoming more and more rare.

"It just doesn't happen anymore," Hamels said. "You just have to play and be happy with who you are and where you're at and that's kind of what I'm doing. 

"I'm trying to live in the moment and I've been enjoying every moment that I have. That's kind of the gameplan that we have to take and stick to."

The Cubs are an up-and-coming team comprised of young, inexperienced players, so Theo Epstein's front office isn't in any sort of "all-in" buy mode at this trade deadline. Rental players like David Price are not as enticing to the Cubs as a guy like Hamels, who is under team control through the 2019 season.

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Was it a weird twist of fate that what may be Hamels' last start with the Phillies came in the form of a no-hitter at Wrigley Field against the Cubs?

"There's great history in this ballpark and it's a great place to come and play," Hamels said. "It's something that I grew up watching on WGN when I was a kid.

"So being able to play the game and just knowing that I'm able to go out there and enjoy it and be myself, it's just a special moment."

With less than a week until the trade deadline, talks are certain to heat up revolving around Hamels. Could he see himself pitching for the Cubs?

"That's kind of tough to really answer because right now, I'm wearing Phillies red and that's where I plan to play," he said. "I think that's all I can really do. It's out of my control.

"I try to wake up everyday and drive to Citizen's Bank Park and play with the big 'P' on my chest. That's kind of what I've done since the moment I got drafted by them and that's what I'm going to continue to do until somebody says no."

Cubs reportedly ‘exceptionally impressed’ by Joe Espada in managerial search

Cubs reportedly ‘exceptionally impressed’ by Joe Espada in managerial search

As the Cubs peruse over their list of managerial candidates, one name reportedly made a strong impression following his interview with the team.

According to NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan, Astros bench coach Joe Espada left the Cubs front office “exceptionally impressed” following his interview on Monday.

Espada, 44, has spent the last two seasons as Astros bench coach following three seasons as Yankees third base coach. He is one of MLB’s more sought after managerial candidates this winter and one of three known external candidates for the Cubs’ opening, along with Joe Girardi and Gabe Kapler.

Former Cubs catcher and current front office assistant David Ross has been the presumed front runner for the Cubs' opening. But based on Kaplan’s report, Espada clearly has given Epstein and Co. something to think about, which makes sense, considering Espada is coming from an innovative Astros organization.

Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference that there’s no timeline for the Cubs’ managerial search. However, MLB prefers teams to not make big announcements during the World Series, which kicks off on Oct. 22. Thus, the Cubs may not make an announcement for little while longer, though this is purely speculation.

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The curious case of Brad Wieck and his unique opportunity with the Cubs

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AP

The curious case of Brad Wieck and his unique opportunity with the Cubs

If anybody thought the Cubs' 2019 season was a roller coaster, it was nothing compared to what Brad Wieck has gone through this year.

Wieck — the 6-foot-9 left-handed reliever — went from a cancer diagnosis to a Padres cast-off and wound up finishing the year carving through the heart of the Cardinals order in the eighth inning of a must-win game in late-September for the Cubs.

Wieck began 2019 with a testicular cancer diagnosis in January and underwent surgery shortly after. That left him playing catch-up all spring training, unable to lift, run or throw off a mound for a month after the surgery. He only ended up facing live hitters twice before the regular season started and was never able to recover with the Padres, putting up a 5.71 ERA in 34.2 MLB innings. 

Then the Cubs came calling.

While the rest of Cubdom was understandably occupied on Trade Deadline Day celebrating the Nick Castellanos move, Theo Epstein's front office made a smaller move with the San Diego Padres. And Wieck wasn't even the central focus of that trade, as more of the emphasis was on the departure of Carl Edwards Jr. — a polarizing figure in the Cubs bullpen the last few seasons, including throughout the 2016 World Series run.

Yet Epstein's front office didn't treat Wieck like a throw-in. From Day 1 with the organization, the Cubs handled the southpaw more like a first-round draft pick.

Right after the trade, Wieck was immediately assigned to Triple-A Iowa, where he made a pair of appearances against the Tacoma Rainiers. From there, he was invited to Chicago to meet with the Cubs front office and throw a bullpen off the Wrigley Field mound.

"So I got here and they had a whole presentation of what my current curveball looked like and what they would like the shape of it to look like and so we just started messing around with grip," Wieck said. "I went to a spike curveball grip and we got in the lab and we started throwing it more and we came up with consistent break of what we thought was gonna be a better break than the curveball that I had.

"Just trial and error, honestly. We just looked at Rapsodo stuff and saw what spin efficiency is doing and spin rate and trying to get my curveball spin to replicate the exact opposite of my fastball. That's what our goal was."

That led to a trip to the "Pitch Lab" in Arizona where Wieck worked with Josh Zeid, the Cubs' pitching analyst, to continue to mess around with the new curveball grip and add a new, consistent weapon to his arsenal. 

If the term "spike curveball" sounds familiar, it should. It's become the unofficial pitch of the Cubs (you know, if organizations defined themselves by just one pitch). Rowan Wick — Wieck's former roommate in the Padres system — broke out as a trusted big-league reliever in large part because of the emergence of his spike curve. Craig Kimbrel throws one and also taught the pitch to Yu Darvish, who added it to the plethora of options already at his disposal. 

Wieck's time in Arizona was about getting comfortable with the new pitch and not worrying about facing hitters or pitching in a game. After a couple weeks in the desert, the Cubs threw him back out on the mound in Iowa, where he made four appearances before getting the call to the big leagues when rosters expanded in September. 

Right off the bat, we got a look at that spike curve and there is no doubt it can play at Wrigley Field, especially when the shadows roll in:

Just like that, a new weapon was born and Wieck developed more confidence in that reshaped curveball.

"I like that they're forcing me to throw it more because I've been a fastball-heavy pitcher my whole life," Wieck said. "I trust my fastball with my life. To have a catcher get back there and make you throw it, that's really good."

The Cubs' confidence in Wieck also grew as the month went on. He emerged alongside his buddy Wick as vital pieces of the late-season bullpen while Kimbrel and Brandon Kintzler dealt with injuries. It got to the point where Joe Maddon kept Wieck in to face the Cardinals' big boppers (Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna — both right-handed hitters) with a 1-run lead in the eighth inning on that final homestand. We all know how that game ended (Kimbrel served up homers on back-to-back pitches for another gut-wrenching Cubs loss), but Wieck did his job and proved he's far more than just a lefty specialist.

This fall was the first time Wieck had been a part of a playoff push and that outing against the Cardinals was only the 46th MLB appearance of his young career. Moving into 2020, the 28-year-old southpaw looks to be one of only a few arms penciled into the Cubs bullpen. 

The Cubs had their eyes on Wieck for a while before they were able to trade for him and they don't plan on rolling out a big presentation for each acquisition or ask every new arm to start throwing a brand new pitch or completely remake one of their existing pitches. This was a unique situation, but it's one that already paid dividends in a short period of time and could help set up the bullpen for the future. 

It's also another indicator that the "Pitch Lab" can work, as Wieck joins Wick and Kyle Ryan as products of the Cubs' new model they hope to fine-tune and grow. Epstein will hire a director of pitching for the organization this winter and the Cubs are hoping to change the narrative surrounding their shocking lack of pitching development under this front office. 

In Wieck's case, it was a group effort from the Cubs — the front office, research and development department, big-league coaching staff (led by pitching coach Tommy Hottovy), the pitching analytics unit based in Arizona and minor league pitching coordinator Brendan Sagara all teamed up to make it happen for the tall lefty in only a month's time.

It's a model the organization will attempt to duplicate moving forward, beginning this winter.