Cubs

Josh Hamilton signs 125 deal with surprise team

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Josh Hamilton signs 125 deal with surprise team

From Comcast SportsNetLOS ANGELES (AP) -- Josh Hamilton is heading to the Los Angeles Angels, lured with a 125 million, five-year contract that steps up the migration of high-profile stars to Southern California.The Angels persuaded the free-agent outfielder to leave the Texas Rangers with their third big-money offseason signing in as many years. Hamilton heads to Anaheim after first baseman Albert Pujols came West for 240 million last December along with pitcher C.J. Wilson -- Hamilton's Texas teammate -- for 77.5 million.Still, the Angels failed to make the playoffs for the third straight year.They had bulked up their pitching staff earlier in the offseason with the additions of pitchers Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson, along with relievers Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson.General manager Jerry Dipoto had said Wednesday that he didn't think a major move was "imminent or required."But owner Arte Moreno pulled off another coup by getting Hamilton. The 2010 AL MVP, Pujols and AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout combined for 103 home runs and 316 RBIs last season."It's a great day to be an AngelAngel fan!" Wilson said on his Twitter account.Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said Hamilton had reached a deal with the AL West rival Angels. Two people familiar with the talks disclosed the amount and length of the contract, speaking on condition of anonymity because the agreement was not yet final.Hamilton's 25 million average salary matches Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard for the second-highest in baseball, trailing only Alex Rodriguez's 27.5 million average with the New York Yankees.Since the contract wasn't final, the Angels didn't comment publicly. The team said in a statement, "We continue to look for ways to improve our team. As soon as we have something formal to announce, we will do so."Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia didn't immediately respond to phone messages.The Angels allowed free agent outfielder Torii Hunter to sign with Detroit, and he reacted to his former team's latest move on his Twitter account."I was told money was tight but I guess the Arte had money hidden under a Mattress. Business is business but don't lie," Hunter wrote.He followed up with the comment, "Great signing for the Angels. One of the best players in baseball."Texas had hoped to re-sign Hamilton, who led the Rangers to consecutive World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011. They made a 13.3 million qualifying offer at the Nov. 2 deadline, ensuring the team draft-pick compensation if Hamilton signed elsewhere. The Rangers will receive an extra selection immediately following the first round of June's amateur draft. The deal cost the Angels a first-round selection in the draft.Speaking Thursday after a Rangers' holiday luncheon, Daniels said he had just been informed of the decision by Hamilton's agent, Michael Moye.Daniels said he was disappointed "to some degree," especially since the Rangers never got a chance to match any offer during the process, as they had expected. Or at least get contacted before Hamilton agreed with another team."I never expected that he was going to tell us to the dollar what they had, and a chance to offer it. Our full expectation, the phone call was going to be before he signed, and certainly not after," Daniels said. "Everybody's got to make their own calls."He's a tremendous talent and I think that they've shown they're going to be in on a lot of the best players out there. No sugarcoating it, we wanted the player back. And he signed with the Angels. They're better," Daniels said.The agreement came days after the Los Angeles Dodgers added pitchers Zack Greinke and Ryu Hyun-jin, boosting their payroll over 200 million. Greinke, another offseason target, said he chose the Dodgers over the Rangers.Hamilton's addition to the Angels outfield means Mark Trumbo could be moved to third base or traded. Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells also are among the outfielders competing for time unless a trade is made.Scioscia will have an interesting decision to make on where in the batting order to slot in Pujols, Trout and Hamilton, a five-time All-Star. He has a .260 career average at Angel Stadium with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 150 at-bats.Daniels met with Moye last week at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., and had talked about the parameters of a new contract along with numbers. While Daniels wouldn't get into any specifics, he said his understanding is the deal with the Angels "is certainly more guaranteed money."The move keeps Hamilton in the same division with plenty of opportunities to play against his team -- the first one coming fast next season. After the Rangers open with three games at new division foe Houston, they play their first home series April 5-7 against the Angels.The 31-year-old slugger was considered a risk by some teams because of his history of alcohol and substance abuse, which derailed his career before his surge with the Rangers over the past five seasons."Josh has done a lot for the organization, the organization has done a lot for Josh, a lot of things that aren't public and things of that nature," Daniels said. "I'm a little disappointed how it was handled, but he had a decision to make and he made it."Hamilton had a career-high 43 home runs with 128 RBIs in 148 games last season, when the Rangers struggled down the stretch and lost the division to Oakland on the final day of the regular season.Texas then lost in the winner-take-all wild-card game against Baltimore, and Hamilton was lustily booed by Rangers fans while going 0-for-4 -- twice striking out on three pitches, including an inning-ending out in the eighth with a runner in scoring position when it was still a 3-1 game.That came two days after Hamilton dropped a routine popup in the regular-season finale, a two-out tiebreaking miscue that allowed the A's to score two runs and go ahead to stay. He missed five games on a September trip because of a cornea problem he said was caused by too much caffeine and energy drinks -- and had one homer with 18 strikeouts in the final 10 regular-season games after returning.Hamilton hit .304 with 161 homers in his six major league seasons, the first with Cincinnati. In May against Baltimore, he became only the 16th major league with a four-homer game as part of a 5-for-5 night that included a double."Josh had indicated recently ... told us that he felt it might be time to move on, but that we were still talking," said Daniels, who wouldn't elaborate on the reasons. "We had additional conversations this week that I thought had moved it along in a positive direction, but apparently not."

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

How you evaluate Cole Hamels’ 2019 performance depends on which half of the season you look at.

Hamels was the Cubs’ most reliable starting pitcher through June, putting his name firmly in the conversation to make the All-Star Game. Through his first 17 starts, he held a 2.98 ERA, with 97 strikeouts and 35 walks in 99 2/3 innings.

That 17th start – June 28 against the Reds – represented a turning point for the left-hander, however. After throwing one warmup pitch ahead of the second inning, Hamels took a beeline for the Cubs’ dugout, exiting the game with a left oblique strain.

Hamels quickly detecting the strain was key, as he avoided a more significant injury and only missed one month as a result. However, he never got back to his pre-injury level after returning. In 10 starts, he posted a 5.79 ERA, walking 21 batters in 42 innings as opponents slashed .315/.397/.506 against him.

Which of the two pitchers does Hamels more closely resemble at this point? That’s what teams will have to evaluate this offseason, when the soon-to-be 36-year-old lefty hits free agency for the first time in his career.

On top of his oblique strain, Hamels also missed a start in September with left shoulder fatigue. By the time he returned, the Cubs were eliminated from postseason contention, but he wanted one last chance to show what he’s capable of before free agency.

“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 of the season. “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.”

He certainly backed those words up, shutting down the Cardinals – who hadn’t clinched the NL Central yet – in the second-to-last game of the regular season. Hamels pitched four innings, allowing no runs on just two hits.

Hamels looked stellar in that game, but it doesn’t change the fact that returning from an extended injury absence isn’t easy on pitchers. They need time to regain command of their pitches, plus any amount of arm strength lost during their time on the shelf.

Hamels made two rehab starts at Triple-A before rejoining the Cubs on Aug. 3. He was determined not to return too quickly, as he did so with the Rangers in 2017 after straining his right oblique. That wound up negatively affecting him the rest of the season.

Still, maybe one or two more starts this time around would’ve served him well, though he felt that he could compete at the majors without his best stuff. Plus, it’s not like he was guaranteed to find his groove again by pitching in more minor league games.

Results are all that matter in the big leagues, however, and they show that while the Cubs starting rotation was okay, it wasn’t the difference maker capable of leading the team to October, as anticipated. Cubs starters finished the season with a 4.18 ERA, 10th in MLB and sixth in the National League.

Hamels’ post-injury woes played into those numbers, and he’s determined to bounce back in 2020 to prove his second half performance was a fluke. His first half show that he still can pitch at a high-level, but he may not be in the Cubs’ plans for next season, regardless.

"There was some injury and regression (especially after injury) that led us to be closer to the pack certainly than we had envisioned,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said of the team’s rotation at his end-of-season press conference. “It’s an accomplished and experienced group, but with experience means that we could stand to add some younger talent, refresh the group as well.

“We certainly need to add depth and we need to add some youth and a little bit of a different look to the staff, as well, going forward.”

Those comments seem to indicate that Hamels won’t be back next season. The Cubs have Adbert Alzolay, Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills as internal rotation options for 2020 and could look outside the organization for more. Hamels also made $20 million in 2019, so freeing up his salary would help the Cubs address other roster needs.

The Cubs could do a lot worse than having a healthy Cole Hamels in their rotation, though. He’s enjoyed a resurgence since the Cubs acquired him and has had plenty of success against the NL Central and at Wrigley Field overall during his career:

vs. Brewers: 20 starts, 8-5, 3.53 ERA
vs. Cardinals: 17 starts, 5-6, 2.21 ERA
vs. Pirates: 13 starts, 5-4 record, 2.52 ERA
vs. Reds: 20 starts, 11-2 record. 2.30 ERA
at Wrigley Field: 25 starts, 7-4 record, 2.20 ERA

Granted, a large portion of those starts came earlier in his career. But with how competitive the NL Central was in 2019 and will be in 2020, the results can’t be ignored.

“Obviously I do very well at Wrigley, so I hope that’s a consideration - I love to be able to pitch there,” Hamels said about the Cubs possibly re-signing him. “For some reason, it’s just the energy and I’ve mentioned it before, it’s baseball to me. And that’s what I really feed off of and that’s hopefully what they think about.”

But if the Cubs decide to part ways with Hamels, he’ll have his fair share of suitors. The Brewers and Reds each could benefit from adding starting pitching this offseason, and Hamels would bring a ton of experience to two squads that will be competing for postseason spots in 2020.

“Otherwise, I know the other teams in the division are gonna think about it,” Hamels said with a laugh. “If you have to come to Wrigley three different times [as an opponent], I don’t pitch bad there.

“I just want to win. I think that’s it. When you get the taste of it early and then you don’t have it for a while, that’s what you’re striving for. To play this game and in front of sellouts and the energy and the expectation of winning, it’s why I enjoy the game.

“That’s what I want to be able to continue to do for the few years I have left.”

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Patrick Kane believes there's 'chemistry to be built' with Kirby Dach and Dylan Strome

Patrick Kane believes there's 'chemistry to be built' with Kirby Dach and Dylan Strome

All eyes were on No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach during Sunday's game as he made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks, but the story leading up to puck drop was where he was going to slot into the lineup.

Would he be broken in as a winger or were the Blackhawks going to slide him into his natural position at center? And if so, where? The answer to the first question was the latter and the second drew excitement among the fanbase when the team ran through line rushes during warmups.

Dach lined up as the second-line center with Patrick Kane at right wing and Dylan Strome moved over to left wing. That's a No. 3 overall pick (Dach) alongside another No. 3 overall pick (Strome) and a No. 1 overall pick (Kane), who's a three-time Stanley Cup champion and Hart Trophy winner.

When the three of them were on the ice together at 5-on-5 against Washington, they had eight shot attempts for and nine against and four scoring chances for and five against in 12:27 of ice time, according to Natural Stat Trick. Not great, but not terrible.

On paper, the trio has some real potential and it's enough for Kane to feel like this could be a line that sticks going forward.

"I thought he played well," Kane said of Dach's debut. "Did some noticeable things where he's hanging onto the puck, big body, he's obviously still a young kid. Pretty raw, but for his first game against a really good team, one of the better teams in the league, I thought he was noticeable, had some good shifts. I think there's some chemistry to be built there. I think we can even be better. Better with him, myself and Strome, we can be better for him." 

Dach said after morning skate that he wasn't sure where he was going to fit into the lineup. But he found out shortly after and spoke after the game about what it was like playing with Kane and Strome.

"It was pretty cool," Dach said. "Obviously grew up watching Kaner play and how successful he's been in his career and Stromer is coming into his own way and how good of a player he is. They made it easy to play with those guys. It was fun. I enjoyed playing with them."

The Blackhawks return to action on Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights, one of the top teams in the Western Conference, and expect the Strome-Dach-Kane line to get another crack together as they look to strengthen their on-ice rapport.

"I look at his game, he's pretty responsible," coach Jeremy Colliton said of Dach. "He doesn't look like a centerman who is going to struggle in his own end. He looks like he knows what he's doing down there. It's not going to be perfect, but there's the opportunity for him to get a lot better really quickly. We'll see how it plays out."

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