Cubs

It sure sounds like Cole Hamels will be back in the Cubs rotation in 2019

It sure sounds like Cole Hamels will be back in the Cubs rotation in 2019

It's safe to say Cubs fans can expect to see Cole Hamels in the "Cubbie blue" pinstripes again in 2019.
 
Hamels has a $20 million team option for next year and to this point, there's been absolutely no gamesmanship from either side with both the veteran southpaw and the Cubs front office openly admitting they'd like things to continue next year.

From the second Hamels got to the North Side of Chicago, he's been straightforward about how he's always wanted to play for the Cubs, dating back even before he was linked to the Cubs at the 2015 trade deadline before he was ultimately dealt to the Texas Rangers.

When the Cubs picked up Hamels this season, the 34-year-old was everything the team was hoping for and more, going 4-3 with a 2.36 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and racking up 2.5 WAR in only 12 starts.

Even when he wasn't pitching, Hamels was a leader inside the clubhouse, helping lend advice to pitchers like Mike Montgomery while also serving as a respected veteran voice as a former World Series MVP who had pitched in seven different Octobers prior to 2018.

Oh yeah, and then there was that bold statement about the Cubs-Brewers "rivalry" that endeared Hamels to North Side fans and let the entire baseball world know he was not interested in simply being a three-month rental for the Cubs.

"The Cubs have always been one of the top teams I've always wanted to be a player for," Hamels said after the Cubs were eliminated from the playoffs last week. "And obviously it didn't happen in '15. Very fortunate to go to Texas, but the Chicago Cubs were always a team I would've loved an opportunity to play for in front of this crowd and this organization and to see these types of players. 

"They have a tremendous clubhouse presence, tremendous talents and it was great to be able to toe the rubber and have these guys behind me."

When Theo Epstein addressed the media about 16 hours or so after the Cubs' season ended, he didn't hesitate for even a split-second when asked if the front office hoped Hamels could return in 2019.

"Yeah, absolutely," Epstein said emphatically. "I mean, Cole was such a breath of fresh air for us. He made an unbelievable impression. For a guy that's only been here a couple months, he's as universally respected in that room as anyone I've ever seen.

"He's a pro's pro and contributed tremendously on the field and off the field and with a great, engaged, accountable, positive presence in that clubhouse who really cares about his teammates and help make them better by example and by discussion, too. He's absolutely someone we'd love to have part of the mix going forward."

The Cubs already have a bunch of starting pitchers locked under contract for 2019, but that shouldn't - and won't - dissuade Epstein's front office from paying Hamels that $20 million as rotation depth and a clubhouse presence. We should get a final determination on Hamels' option a few days after the World Series ends this fall.

The old adage in baseball is there really is no such thing as a bad one-year deal and with the question marks surrounding Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood, Hamels would give the Cubs a reliable fourth starter behind Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. The Cubs also have Montgomery as depth and they've already publicly stated they plan to stretch Drew Smyly out as a starter in 2019 after he did not pitch at all in 2018 while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Many questioned how much Hamels had left in the tank after he posted a 4.42 ERA in 262.1 innings with the Rangers from 2017-18, but he silenced all doubters as he was rejuvenated joining a pennant race and pitching in front of the Cubs' young, talented core. 

Hamels has seen so much in his 13 years in the big leagues and truly believes the Cubs' stunning early exit from this October can be a great learning experience for the team moving into next year and beyond.

And he really wants front-row seats for that in 2019.

"This was a fun experience to be a part of and hopefully this will be something I'll be able to be a part of next year," Hamels said. "...This is the right type of environment [for winning.] What Theo and the ownership have done and the players they have, they really look at that. They have the type of players that are capable of [getting back to the postseason year after year]. 

"Obviously, everybody getting healthy, that definitely turns the tide. So I think they've got quite a few more years to really put a dent in the National League and bring home a couple more World Series."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: The possible return of Ben Zobrist?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: The possible return of Ben Zobrist?

SportsTalk Live is on location at Wrigley Field for Cubs Authentic Fan Night.

0:00- Doug Glanville and Teddy Greenstein join Luke Stuckmeyer to recap the Cubs' weekend sweep and the performance of the suddenly hard-hitting outfielders.

10:00- Tony Andracki and Jesse Rogers join Luke and Teddy to talk about Theo Epstein's pregame comments and the possible return of Ben Zobrist. Plus they discuss who could get the majority of the playing time at 2nd base for the rest of the season.

16:30- Robbie Gould signs a 4-year deal with the 49ers. So are the Bears ok with the kicker situation? Plus the guys discuss Mitch Trubisky only getting a 75 in the Madden '20 ratings.

25:30- Teddy previews the Open Championship and gives his picks on Money Monday presented by FanDuel.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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How the Ben Zobrist situation affects Cubs as trade deadline approaches

How the Ben Zobrist situation affects Cubs as trade deadline approaches

As the trade deadline approaches, it's apparent the Cubs could use another hitter — preferably a battle-tested veteran who can provide a consistent, advanced approach at the plate, especially against top-notch pitching.

Ideally, that hitter would be able to play second base or the outfield (or both) and be able to slide into the leadoff spot to help set the table for Javy Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Oh, and it'd be great if he could hit left-handed and even better if he could switch-hit.

Sound like anybody you know?

In so many ways, Ben Zobrist is the perfect guy to add to this current roster to help take the edges off the Jekyll and Hyde style offense the Cubs have displayed for much of the year. 

Zobrist has indicated to the Cubs he would like to return this season after going on the restricted list with a personal issue in early May.

However, the Cubs can't necessarily count on Zobrist's return as a guaranteed boost to this lineup and team whenever he is able to make it back.

"At this point, it doesn't [have any affect on what we do ahead of the trade deadline]," Theo Epstein said Monday evening at Wrigley Field. "But if we have more of a definitive plan, it's something we wouldn't necessarily overly rely on, but I think we'd plan for his possible return at a later date. Some steps to go before we get to that point."

The trade deadline is just over two weeks away and unlike years past, there is no August waiver deadline this season. So the Cubs can't go out and add a guy like Daniel Murphy after July 31 this year to augment their lineup.

As for a timeline on Zobrist, Epstein said there is currently no target date set up and he still has to chat with the veteran about getting a plan in place. The two have been texting, but Epstein will speak to Zobrist soon to nail down a more specific plan of attack moving forward.

"We're still hopeful that he returns," Epstein said. "We need to make sure that can happen and then get a plan in place for exactly how we're gonna accomplish it for him and for the team."

Even if Zobrist and the Cubs had an exact return date in mind, he wouldn't be able to help this team immediately upon being activated off the restricted list. The 38-year-old veteran would need to go to Arizona and/or a minor-league rehab stint for at least a few weeks to get his timing back and ramp up to game shape after missing several months of the big-league season.

Even in a best-case scenario, Zobrist probably wouldn't return to Chicago until mid-to-late August and is probably more likely on course for roster expansion on Sept. 1.

As for how much the Cubs miss Zobrist and could use him in their lineup right now, listen to manager Joe Maddon talking about what his team needs before the trade deadline before Sunday afternoon's game at Wrigley Field:

"Overall, if you could maybe just add that element where one more consistent bat in there — a real pro at-bat," Maddon said. "Like, we're missing Zobrist. That's a perfect guy, but he's not here anytime soon. Zo fits into what we're doing so well. We miss that, I believe. 

"I mean, Zo, you could always rely on him for that pro at-bat at the beginning of the game, leading off in front of the other guys. What I mean by that is he normally would never expand the strike zone. Almost never. And you can see him just shut down — the ball would be right there and automatically, you could see it's gonna be a ball from the side, but he's already shutting [his swing] down. Not even a flinch. That's the one component at the top. 

"We have guys that work a good at-bat — I'm not saying we don't. Something like that can be very contagious."