What to expect from Cole Hamels, according to his former Rangers teammate

What to expect from Cole Hamels, according to his former Rangers teammate

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs' front office pulled off their big move of the season in the wake of the team's walk-off win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday, acquiring left-handed starter Cole Hamels from the Texas Rangers. For a team that has struggled with starting pitching throughout the 2018 season, the 34-year-old could provide a big boost in the stretch run.

But Hamels is not the only pitcher the Cubs recently added to the roster in a deal with the Rangers. Jesse Chavez, a reliever who has pitched five shutout innings out of the bullpen for the Cubs, has a unique ability to speak on Hamels as a pitcher and a clubhouse presence.

“What we're getting is a guy obviously with postseason experience and a World Series MVP,” said Chavez. “And this team is hungry for another one, so you put those two things together and it's a good recipe.”

Hamels was having a strong season up until his last five starts. Over that period, he has a 10.23 ERA with 37 hits allowed in 22 innings. In his 15 starts prior, however, Hamels had a 3.41 ERA with 78 hits allowed and 92 strikeouts in 92 1/3 innings.

“He's human, we're all human,” he said. “Some games happen the way we don't want them to, and from my eyes sitting and watching him in the first half, I think it was just like one pitch at the wrong stadium in all honesty. We've all been there. I've been there a lot. You know, it's just things like that, it's Cole. He's professional, he's going to come in here and hit stride, mesh in real well with this group.”

Many are looking to Hamels' peripheral stats as hope that he'll be able to provide a spark down the stretch for the Cubs. Even during his recent unfortunate stretch, his fastball velocity is as strong as it has been all season – averaging between 92-93 mph.

In his home ballpark in Arlington, Texas, Hamels was 1-7 this season with a 6.41 ERA in 59 innings. On the road, however, he is 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA in 55 1/3 innings. In six career starts at Wrigley Field, Hamels has a 1.76 ERA in 41 innings – which includes the no-hitter he tossed as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015.

“Home splits and road splits are different, but I think that's kind of for everybody,” said Chavez. “Very rarely do you see similar splits at home and on the road. Those are the guys that are up at the top, and I'm pretty sure that was him early on. Like I said, it's just that year. I can't really put a finger on it, you'll just have to ask Cole.”

The home and road splits may not lead to the conclusion that simply getting out of Texas is a panacea for Hamels, but Chavez does concede that it can be hard to pitch in that ballpark as the season goes along.

“The heat, the humidity, it takes its toll,” he said. “Especially during long at-bats. That's what I experienced early on in the first half. You're going to have long at-bats and one's going to back up or hang. You don't want it to, it's just the nature of the game. Things even out.”

After coming into the season with what appeared on paper to be one of the best rotations in baseball, the Cubs have really struggled getting quality production from their starters. As a unit, they have a 4.04 ERA (13th in baseball) and 259 walks in 102 games (second-worst in baseball).

Tyler Chatwood, who the Cubs signed to a three-year, $38 million contract last December, has been the biggest culprit. The 28-year-old has a 4.98 ERA in 94 innings with 85 walks – worst among all starters in Major League Baseball. Chatwood has a 7.71 ERA in 25 2/3 innings with 22 walks over his last five starts, and opposing batters have posted a .869 OPS against him.

The Cubs have yet to announce how they intend to line up their rotation going forward, however they do intend to use a five-man rotation for the time being.

Cubs acknowledge meeting with free agent outfielder Shogo Akiyama

Cubs acknowledge meeting with free agent outfielder Shogo Akiyama

The Cubs have met with Japanese free agent outfielder Shogo Akiyama, general manager Jed Hoyer acknowledged Thursday. He also admitted the Cubs aren't the only team to have done so, however.

"Yeah, we met with him,” Hoyer said in San Diego. “Listen, a lot of teams were involved. Obviously he's a very good player and he's gonna have a good role on a major-league team this year, but I can't comment beyond that."

Akiyama would help the Cubs address their search for upgraded production from center field and the leadoff spot. The 31-year-old holds a career .376 on-base percentage in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. He hit .303 with a .392 OBP with the Saitama Seibu Lions last season.

Five Cubs center fielders combined to hit .232 with a .305 OBP in 2019, 20th in MLB. Only the team’s second base production was worse. Meanwhile, 11 Cubs leadoff men combined for the worst average (.212) and OBP (.294) in MLB out of that spot.

Akiyama has also met with the Diamondbacks, Rays and Reds and is looking for a two-year deal worth $8-10 million total, according to WSCR’s Bruce Levine. That could be in the budget-conscious Cubs’ price range, but they'll leave the Winter Meetings having only made a minor move via the Rule 5 Draft.

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Cubs leave Winter Meetings with a new pitcher

NBC Sports Chicago

Cubs leave Winter Meetings with a new pitcher

SAN DIEGO — The Cubs waited all the way until the final minutes of the MLB Winter Meetings to make a move, but at least they're not going home empty-handed.

For the first time since 2014, the Cubs made a selection in the Rule 5 Draft, adding pitcher Trevor Megill. The right-hander turned 26 last week and has spent his entire professional career in the San Diego Padres system.

Megill stands 6-foot-8 and posted a 3.86 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 39 minor-league games last year, mostly at Triple-A. He struck out 87 batters in 60.2 innings, including an eye-popping 12.7 K/9 rate with Triple-A El Paso. 

He figures to slot into the Cubs' bullpen for now. Per MLB rules, Megill, who has yet to make his MLB debut, must remain on the Cubs' big-league roster all season; otherwise, he would be returned to the Padres.

It's obviously not a splashy acquisition, but it allows the Cubs to get Megill into their Pitch Lab this winter and evaluate him throughout spring training to see if he can be the type of buy-low arm they've been stockpiling over the past year. That process has worked out for Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck so far, and the Cubs are hoping the trend will continue for their pitching acquisitions this winter (Jharel Cotton, Dan Winkler, CD Pelham and now Megill). 

"Megill is a guy we tried to trade for prior to the rosters being set in November," Jed Hoyer said. "He's a guy we've liked and got good reports on — big, physical right-handed reliever that had a good year last year in Triple-A. We've had some experience with him and we were excited he was there."

The Rule 5 Draft is not often an avenue to acquire impactful players, but it's not unheard of. 

The Cubs traded for Caleb Smith in the 2016 Rule 5 Draft, but ended up returning him to the Yankees that spring due to a roster crunch. Smith has turned into a solid starter with the Miami Marlins.

Back in 2012, the Cubs added Hector Rondon in the Rule 5 draft. He wound up saving 29 games for them two years later and emerged as a central piece of the bullpen for five seasons.

"When you have room on the roster, it's always a nice thing to do," Hoyer said. "There's times you can't do it — you don't have room on the roster sometimes and you can't fit it in. But in the years you do have that space on the roster, it's a nice thing to be able to do. Obviously there's challenges that come with it, but Megill is a guy we're excited about and excited to see him in spring training."

If the season started tomorrow, the Cubs' bullpen would probably look like this:

Craig Kimbrel
Rowan Wick
Kyle Ryan
Brad Wieck
Dan Winkler
Trevor Megill
Alec Mills/Tyler Chatwood/Adbert Alzolay/Duane Underwood Jr./Jharel Cotton

That's quite a different look from the veteran-laden relief corps of the last few seasons, but the Cubs are searching everywhere for reclamation projects, hoping to hit on a couple as they reshape their roster.

In the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 Draft, the Cubs added another pitcher: Brock Stewart, a 28-year-old who grew up in central Illinois and attended Illinois State University. He has 46 big-league games under his belt (including 11 starts) with the Dodgers and Blue Jays.

Stewart struggled mightily in 2019 (9.82 ERA in the big leagues and a 7.36 ERA in Triple-A), but he's only a few years removed from being a highly rated prospect in the Dodgers' system and presents as another low-risk reclamation project.

The Cubs also lost a couple notable players in the Rule 5 Draft Thursday: utility infielder Vimael Machin and right-handed pitcher Michael Rucker.

Machin, 26, was a 2015 10th-round pick who worked his way up to Triple-A in 2019. Overall, he posted an impressive .295 batting average and .390 on-base percentage in the minors last season (mostly in Double-A), but the Cubs ultimately chose not to protect him on the 40-man roster.

Rucker, 25, was a 2016 11th-round pick who appeared in 34 games for Double-A Tennessee and 2 games for Triple-A Iowa last year, pitching to a 4.18 ERA overall.