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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Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel's unique pitching pose stemmed from an injury

Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel's unique pitching pose stemmed from an injury

Craig Kimbrel’s debut season with the Cubs didn’t go well. The closer on a Hall of Fame trajectory went 0-4 with a 6.53 ERA (8.00 FIP) and 1.597 WHIP in 2019, converting 13 of 16 save tries.

Kimbrel had an abnormal preseason last year and didn’t make his season debut until late June. 2020 is a clean slate for the right-hander, but Major League Baseball is looking at an unorthodox season due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Whenever the season starts, Kimbrel has the chance to start fresh and put last year’s struggles behind him. Until then, here’s a few things to know about him:

1. Kimbrel was born in Huntsville, Ala., and played quarterback as a junior and senior at Lee High School. Per a Q&A on his website, the school featured a run-oriented offense, and Kimbrel said he "wasn't really good." Alas.

2. Post-grad, Kimbrel attended Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Ala. He went 8-0 with a 1.99 ERA as a freshman, leading to the Braves selecting him in the 33rd round of the 2007 draft.

Kimbrel returned to school and improved his draft stock, going 9-3 with a 2.88 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 81 innings as a sophomore. Atlanta drafted him again in 2008, this time in the third round.

3. Kimbrel’s pitching stance is notorious — he bends his torso parallel to the ground and dangles his arm at a 90-degree angle. But he doesn’t do it for kicks. It became too painful for him to hold his arm behind his back in 2010, when he suffered from biceps tendinitis.

Opposing fans have made fun of the stance, but hey, it’s unique.

4. During his time with the Red Sox (2017-18) Kimbrel and his teammates — including David Price, Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts — became avid fans of “Fortnite,” the multiplayer-focused video game that took the world by storm two years ago.

“Let’s say we get back at 11 p.m. from a game, we’ll play until 1 a.m., 1:30 a.m., 2 a.m. depending on what time our game is the next day,” David Price told The Athletic in 2018. “But day games or off days, we can put some time in.”

Same, David. Same.

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How Cubs stack up, according to WAR, from 2015-19

How Cubs stack up, according to WAR, from 2015-19

The Cubs made the playoffs four times in five seasons under Joe Maddon, receiving contributions across the diamond from All-Stars and role players alike.

Some players, of course, had bigger impacts for Maddon's Cubs, even in smaller sample sizes. Jesse Chavez and Cole Hamels weren't Cubs for long, but the two 2018 trade deadline pickups helped the North Siders reach the postseason for a fourth straight year.

These are the top 25 players by WAR (wins above replacement) from the Maddon era, according to Baseball Reference.

Top 25 Cubs, according to WAR, from 2015-19

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