Theo Epstein has pulled off another bank shot.
The Cubs president executed a two-part roster move Friday morning, dealing pitcher Drew Smyly to the Texas Rangers and subsequently picking up Cole Hamels' $20 million option. It's a series of deals reminiscent of when Epstein's front office traded away Starlin Castro to clear room for veteran free agent Ben Zobrist ahead of the 2016 season.
Jerry Crasnick first reported the Smyly/Hamels deals:
The Cubs had until Friday afternoon to exercise their 2019 option on Hamels, who turns 35 in December.
The veteran southpaw was a breath of fresh air for this Cubs rotation in the final two months of 2018, going 4-3 with a 2.36 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 8.7 K/9 in 12 starts.
The Cubs acquired Hamels from the Rangers and now send Smyly to Texas in a separate - but related - trade.
Smyly signed a two-year deal with the Cubs worth $10 million during last year's MLB Winter Meetings, but he was unable to pitch at all in 2018 due to his recovery from Tommy John surgery. He will depart Chicago having never thrown a single pitch for the Cubs.
Smyly is still owed $7 million and had a $5 million hit against the luxury tax, so dealing him away frees up some money for the Cubs ahead of a huge offseason of free agents.
Still, it's an interesting move from the Cubs' perspective as they essentially paid Smyly $3 million just to rehab in 2018. Epstein also often says there's no such thing as "too much pitching" and the Cubs could've found a spot for Smyly in 2019 either as rotation insurance or a part of the bullpen, where the only current left-handed relief options are Brian Duensing and Randy Rosario. Smyly has made 71 appearances as a reliever in his career, going 7-0 with a 2.47 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 9.7 K/9 across 87.1 innings.
As part of the original trade, the Rangers were on track to pay Hamels' $6 million buyout if the Cubs did not pick up his option, so from their perspective, they essentially pay a similar amount ($7 million) and yet now get a pitcher (Smyly) out of the deal.
Hamels' return helps bring the Cubs' 2019 pitching staff into focus as he will join Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana in the rotation.
The Cubs still need to figure out what they will do with Tyler Chatwood and Mike Montgomery next season, but those two guys provide rotation depth heading into the new season and Montgomery can always fold back into his swingman role in the bullpen if he's willing to go down that road again.