Cubs

Cubs trade away Drew Smyly to clear room for Cole Hamels

Cubs trade away Drew Smyly to clear room for Cole Hamels

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.

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Report: Nationals declined to meet Cubs' asking price in multiple Kris Bryant trade packages

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USA TODAY

Report: Nationals declined to meet Cubs' asking price in multiple Kris Bryant trade packages

Kris Bryant was a fixture of trade rumors all offseason, with the Nationals frequently mentioned as a potential suitor. Washington lost third baseman Anthony Rendon in free agency, making them a logical candidate to acquire the Cubs third baseman.

A deal obviously never came to fruition, and Bryant said he expects to be with the Cubs through the trade deadline. One reason a Cubs-Nationals deal specifically didn’t occur, according to MLB Network's Jon Heyman, is because Washington wouldn't match the Cubs' asking price in multiple trade scenarios.

Heyman reported in December the Nationals "love" Bryant but noted their unwillingness to part with Victor Robles. Considering the Cubs' undefined center field position, Robles, one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball and an up-and-coming bat, made a ton of sense as the centerpiece to a potential Bryant trade. 

Carter Kieboom, one of the top prospects in baseball, was another intriguing target for the Cubs. The 22-year-old shortstop can also play second and third base and could've replaced Bryant as the Cubs' starter at the hot corner. Washington's unwillingness to part with either player explains why talks between the two sides went "nowhere," even after Bryant's grievance case was settled last month. 

Bryant's future with the team is still somewhat up-in-the-air in the long-term, but we know the Cubs won't trade him for less than fair value. 

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David Ross names first three probable starting pitchers for spring training games

David Ross names first three probable starting pitchers for spring training games

David Ross is wasting no time when it comes to the competition for the Cubs’ fifth rotation spot.

Alec Mills, Tyler Chatwood and Adbert Alzolay will start the Cubs’ first three spring training games, Ross told reporters in Arizona on Thursday. The three are competing for Cole Hamels' vacated rotation spot, with Colin Rea being an outside candidate.

Chatwood is the favorite to win the job — Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy suggested as much last week. The 30-year-old infamously struggled with his command as a starter in 2018 and was removed from the rotation by season’s end. He bounced back in 2019, working as a long reliever and occasional spot starter.

2018: 5.30 ERA, 8.25 BB/9, 19.6 BB%, 95 BB in 103 2/3 IP
2019: 3.76 ERA, 4.34 BB/9, 11.4 BB%, 37 BB in 76 2/3 IP

Mills impressed in limited big-league action last season, sporting a 2.75 ERA (4.19 FIP) in nine games (4 starts). He stepped up big last September in place of an ailing Hamels, tossing 4 2/3 shutout innings in a heartbreaking loss against the Cardinals.

Alzolay made four appearances last season with mixed results in his two starts:

June 25: 4 2/3 IP, 1 H, 1 R/1 ER, 4 BB/4K
July 1: 2 2/3 IP, 10 H, 7 R/7 ER, 1 BB/3K

The 24-year-old missed most of the 2018 minor-league season with a lat strain and his career-high for innings is 120 1/3 (2016). Alzolay views himself as a starting pitcher but wants to help the team any way he can. He also admitted he could have an innings limit, but it depends on how his body feels.

“2018, I got hurt and then last year — including stand up games and all that — I probably got 200 innings,” Alzolay said last month. “Probably won’t throw more than [that in 2020]. Probably [have some limitations]. We’ll see. To me, if I’m feeling good, I feel great and I can keep going, I will.

“My first goal is stay healthy the whole time from here until October. And then just help the team in whatever they need me to do. That’s my whole goal this year.”

Even if Chatwood wins the rotation spot, Mills and Alzolay could make the Opening Day roster as relievers, and make at least a few starts this season. Alzolay has minor-league options remaining, so he could also start the year in Triple-A Iowa's rotation.

Mills is out of minor-league options, so he'd be the leading candidate to fill Chatwood's role in the bullpen.

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