Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels says White Sox have reached out, talks about what he could bring to South Side

Cole Hamels says White Sox have reached out, talks about what he could bring to South Side

Rick Hahn doesn't like to discuss his team's pursuits of specific free-agent players.

But what happens when one of those players is a little more revealing than the general manager?

Free-agent starting pitcher Cole Hamels told Our Chuck Garfien on the latest edition of the White Sox Talk Podcast that the South Siders have been in contact and are interested in talking with Hamels about a potential signing — though it might have to wait until after some other business gets done.

"They have reached out," Hamels said. "That was great to be able to hear. I know with the few guys that they've signed, I think that was kind of their focus. When they did talk to my agent, it was, 'Hey, we're putting something together. We have a few guys that we want to try to get first,' which I think that's what they've been doing, 'but we really have some good interest and would like to talk further down the line.' And I think that's always really good to see.

"And then you see that they're actually making moves, and that's when you pay attention a little bit more, just because you have to see where you might actually fit into the situation."

Hamels' description meshes with what the White Sox have done and are rumored to be doing. They made signing free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal a top offseason priority and crossed that off their to-do list by giving him the richest contract in team history. They guaranteed Jose Abreu will wear a White Sox uniform for another three seasons with a contract extension. And they are rumored to be in hot pursuit of free-agent starting pitcher Zack Wheeler, one of the biggest names in that portion of the market.

Bringing Hamels aboard would also go right along with what Hahn has been talking about while discussing his front office's offseason plans. The White Sox are in search of a pair of arms to add to the starting rotation. Wheeler or someone like him would slot in next to Lucas Giolito at the top of that starting staff. Hamels could be a perfect option to put elsewhere in the rotation, provide some depth and install as a mentor to the rest of a young staff that features Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez.

Hamels would bring not only a veteran presence but a winning history. He was the World Series MVP when the Philadelphia Phillies won it all in 2008.

"I was the same as them," Hamels said. "And I was lucky enough to get Jamie Moyer to come right over. And all of a sudden I had Pedro Martinez and Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee and (Roy) Oswalt. I had those guys to learn from. I had some of the best in the game to learn from, to teach me how to minimize mistakes, how to, really, when you're in the pressed, most difficult situation, how to get out of it, limit damage. Because sometimes you're just flying by the seat of your pants and you don't recognize what you're doing so you can remember to not repeat it. So that's what a good veteran does.

"And I was able to watch, and I feel like that's what I've been able to now actually apply. And that's how you teach the young guys is how to minimize, damage control.

"That's what you have to teach the young pitchers. I think Grandal will probably help with that, too. But you have to be able to have that in the dugout all the time while the game's going on."

It sounds like there will be competition for Hamels' services, the four-time All Star saying that more than half the teams in baseball have reached out and expressed some level of interest.

But the words of Hahn and super-agent Scott Boras might be ringing true. Hahn has long said he feels players can see what the White Sox are building and want to be a part of it. Boras said last month at the GM meetings that players are looking at the White Sox much differently than they have in years past. Hamels raved about what the White Sox can be in the future and talked about how attractive it is to be a part of a team ready to make a jump into contention.

"They're a team that's making some serious strides," he said. "I've pitched against them the past couple years, and you can see the young talent that they have and now how they're actually learning the game and how they're playing well together. At first, I was beating them a lot, and then the past couple seasons they really came out hard and they beat up on me. It's good to see.

"I love the city of Chicago, had a blast being there for about a year and a half (with the Cubs). It's one of my favorite cities to travel to, and to actually be there in the summertime and for a season, I loved it. The fan base there, from both sides (of town), for both teams, is absolutely amazing.

"Just to know that you can actually make a difference and seeing that you could be on a team that's trying to go for those winning ways, that's all I really ask for. I just want the opportunity."

Hamels might not be the same pitcher who finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting four times during his 10-year tenure in Philadelphia, but he was quite good on the North Side the last season and a half, posting a 3.30 ERA and striking out 217 batters in 39 starts for the Cubs. That kind of production would certainly aid the White Sox in their quest to transition from rebuilders to contenders.

Giolito said at season's end that White Sox players' goal will be to make the postseason in 2020, going as far to say that "if we don’t, then I don’t think we’ve come close to what we should be doing." Already the White Sox have helped in that goal, by adding Grandal and bringing Abreu back. They seem intent on that being just the beginning of their offseason.

Hamels could be part of that. It sounds like he wants to be, at least.

"When I was with the Phillies, I came up at just the right time where all those guys in the lineup had been there a few years and had just gotten beat down. But they never lost their confidence and they finally felt like it was their time, and they believed it and they went out and proved it," he said. "And I was able to go out and do my thing and build off their success, which instilled a lot of confidence in me.

"I think that's where it is in (the White Sox) lineup. They're finally feeling ready, they're now ready to take care of business, and everybody will be able to feed off that. And that's the fun part of how you build a team and see what the guys can really do and how they can prove it to themselves.

"As players, we start to see that and sense that from teams, and those are the teams you want to go jump on board with."

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Cubs free agent focus: Cole Hamels

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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Where Cubs payroll stands as 2020 offseason ramps up

Where Cubs payroll stands as 2020 offseason ramps up

Over the last couple days, the Cubs' financial picture for the winter has come into focus.

The organization surprised no one by picking up Anthony Rizzo's $16.5 million option and Jose Quintana's $11.5 million option nor by letting veterans Derek Holland, Brandon Morrow, Tony Barnette and David Phelps walk instead of picking up their respective options.

The only mild surprise came when the Cubs opted not to retain Kendall Graveman for $3 million after he spent all of 2019 — his first year with the club — rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The 28-year-old right-hander has 83 career big-league games (78 starts) under his belt and $3 million is not a hefty price to pay for a potential back-of-the-rotation guy, but the Cubs clearly felt it wasn't worth the gamble at that price for a guy who would have an innings limit even if he had no other ill effects from the elbow procedure.

They also chose not to extend a qualifying offer to Cole Hamels, as the soon-to-be-36-year-old would've likely taken the $17.8 million to return to the Cubs on a one-year deal for 2020 and that would've been a huge blow to the organization's budget for the new season.

Just like last year when Theo Epstein traded away Drew Smyly and his $7 million salary to be able to afford Hamels' $20 million option, how the Cubs approached the first offseason domino (options) gave us our first clue for the winter's budget. But they won't ever come right out and telegraph their financial plan:

"We're not gonna really talk about our payroll or budget, just for strategic reasons," Epstein told David Kaplan and Pat Boyle on a Halloween interview on ESPN Radio. "It also doesn't really matter — words don't matter there. But we don't want to tip off the rest of the league to what we're trying to do. 

"I think when we're done assembling the team, you'll have a good feel for what our budget was, but we're gonna attack the offseason with the various means of player acquisition and try to shape the team for next year and for the future. We have to be mindful of both as we attack the offseason."

So with all the options out of the way, here's where the Cubs' payroll stands as the offseason picks up in earnest.

Committed salary

Jason Heyward - $23.5 million
Yu Darvish - $22 million
Jon Lester - $20 million
Anthony Rizzo - $16.5 million
Craig Kimbrel - $16 million
Tyler Chatwood - $13 million
Kyle Hendricks - $12 million
Jose Quintana - $11.5 million
Daniel Descalso - $2.5 million
David Bote - $960,000

Total (10 players): $137.96 million

Arbitration players (figures estimated by MLB Trade Rumors)

Kris Bryant - $18.5 million
Javy Baez - $9.3 million
Kyle Schwarber - $8 million
Addison Russell - $5.1 million
Willson Contreras - $4.5 million
Albert Almora Jr. - $1.8 million
Kyle Ryan - $1.1 million

Total (7 players): $48.3 million

Pre-arb players 

Note: MLB minimum salary was $555,000 in 2019 but will see a bit of a spike in 2020, so let's pencil it in at $560,000. Teams can pay players more than that and often do based on performance and good will, but they don't have to do that, so let's stick with the base salary for every player to keep things simple.

Ian Happ - $560,000
Victor Caratini - $560,000
Tony Kemp -$560,000
Nico Hoerner - $560,000
Colin Rea - $560,000
Rowan Wick - $560,000
Brad Wieck - $560,000
Alec Mills - $560,000
Duane Underwood Jr. - $560,000

Total (9 players): $5.04 million

There's also a $3 million buyout included for Morrow that will be on the books for 2020.

Add it all up and we're looking at $194.3 million next season for only 26 players (remember, MLB teams will have 26-man rosters beginning in 2020). 

That figure doesn't include other players that will be on the 40-man roster in the minor leagues or any other raises for the pre-arb players in the big leagues. Throw in an estimated $15 million for player benefits and Roster Resource estimates the Cubs' 2020 luxury tax payroll to be $219.8 million — quite a bit over the $208 million luxury tax. 

And that's not even taking into account any offseason moves via trade or free agency. 

Last season, the Cubs were one of three teams (along with the Red Sox and Yankees) to eclipse the $206 million luxury tax threshold. Epstein and Co. blew by the figure by nearly $29 million, according to Spotrac, and were subsequently taxed $6.8 million as a result.

The Cubs did not hit the luxury tax in 2018, so this was only a 20 percent tax on the overages. If they eclipse the threshold again in 2020, they will be looking at a 30 percent luxury tax and would see their top draft pick drop 10 spots if they go over by $40 million.

If the Cubs are really trying to get under the luxury tax to reset the penalties in 2020 (as Kaplan mentioned on the latest CubsTalk Podcast), Epstein has his work cut out for him this winter. They would need to shed around $12 million in salary, and that's even before any acquisitions.

That explains why they didn't want to take the risk that Hamels would accept the qualifying offer and also why $3 million was too much to commit to a pitcher (Graveman) coming off major injury.

Now, looking at the roster and salary figures above, there are some easy ways for the Cubs to save money. 

It's hard to see Russell returning to the team in any capacity in 2020 and even if he did, there's no way the Cubs would pay him more than $5 million given his off-field issues and on-field struggles. It's also tough to envision the Cubs shelling out nearly $2 million for Almora when he's coming off a season in which he posted a .271 on-base percentage and a negative WAR.

Beyond that, there are also trades the Cubs could make to shed some salary. Maybe they find a taker for Chatwood in the final year of his deal. Or maybe Quintana and his $11.5 million salary on a one-year deal would be enticing to a pitching-needy team.

If ever there was a time to deal away players from the position-player core, now would be it as trades might be the only way to fill holes on the roster while also freeing up payroll.

Fans undoubtedly aren't worried about resetting the luxury tax and would love their team to go all-in trying to win the World Series in 2020. But for an organization coming off a disappointing 84-win season and back-to-back falls sitting at home watching the majority of the playoffs, it's hard to see that as a realistic course of action for the Cubs this winter.

Cubs fans frustrated by the team's lack of spending last offseason don't figure to be much happier this winter, but there should still be plenty of change coming to the roster. 

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