Will We See Cole Hamels and Jesse Chavez Back with Cubs Next Season?

The Cubs made very shrewd moves to bring in a pair of former Rangers for the stretch run, both of whom ended up exceeding everyone’s expectations by a wide margin. In terms of both their performance and their fit within the clubhouse, Cole Hamels and Jesse Chavez offer everything an organization could ask for. What’s more, they both like pitching in Chicago and have openly expressed their desire to return.

So is it a foregone conclusion that both will be integral members of the pitching staff in 2019? The emotional answer is yes. The skeptical answer is no, if only because you never know exactly what you’re going to get from 35-year-old pitchers. But the bigger issue is financial, particularly when it comes to Hamels and his $20 million option.

Because that’s a moderately complicated topic, let’s first turn to Chavez, who was adamant in the aftermath of the Cubs’ Wild Card loss that he only planned to play for one team next season.

“If I’m not wearing this next year, I’m done,” the reliever told ESPN’s Marly Rivera while pointing to the Cubs logo on his shirt.

So that’s pretty clear, though how strongly he’ll feel the same once the last vestiges of the season have been washed away is uncertain. Chavez was playing under a one-year, $1 million deal in 2018, but his post-trade performance was worthy of a significant raise. On the other hand, he sort of limited his market and could become the next in a long line to take less money to play for the Cubs.

This one seems like a no-brainer if the Cubs are able to retain him on a short-term deal for a reasonable salary. Wait, isn’t that what we said about Brian Duensing? Well, yeah, but Chavez is a distinctly different player and would be worth the minor risk involved. So I say he’s back.

As for Hamels, his return seems almost a foregone conclusion if you just take him and the Cubs at their word.

“Absolutely,” Theo Epstein said during his postseason presser when asked if he’d like to have Hamels back. “Cole was such a breath of fresh air for us. He made an unbelievable impression. For a guy who’s only been here for 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 with a great engaged, accountable, positive presence in that clubhouse.”

Those sentiments were echoed by the veteran lefty, who relished the chance to pitch in a playoff race after struggling through the first half with the Rangers.

“Hopefully, I did everything I can to convince them that (option) would be valuable,” Hamels told Patrick Mooney (subscription) after the loss. “This organization’s an amazing organization. I’m very fortunate that they made the effort to trade for me.

“I did everything I could. This is a tremendous environment to play baseball. This clubhouse, these guys are awesome. I only was able to get about two months with them. It would be a joy to be able to do it from spring training to the ultimate goal of winning the World Series here.”

So the Cubs love Hamels and Hamels loves the Cubs. But just how much the Cubs are willing to pay for that love is at the heart of the matter here. The lefty’s contract has a $20 million club option for 2019 with a $6 million buyout that the Rangers were to send to the Cubs should they decline Hamels’ option. If that stipulation wasn’t there and it was just a matter of the $14 million — and it still may be, in a way — this is a done deal.

There’s also the possibility that the Cubs could hoodwink the Rangers by declining the option and collecting the $6 million, only to turn around and ink Hamels to a two-year, $25 million deal or something like that. That figure represents more than they’d be on the hook for otherwise, but it would lower the Cubs’ AAV commitment no matter how you look at it (we’ll discuss that here shortly).

However, such a stunt would be viewed as underhanded and would not go over well around the league. It could also sour what has been a very good business relationship between the Cubs and Rangers, particularly when the latter organization is looking to exercise more frugality this offseason and could really use that money.

That brings us to the financial impact the Cubs would have to absorb, the extent of which I will admit I may not have a full understanding of. Brett Taylor has a take on it over at Bleacher Nation that differs from how I believe it works, but, again, this is a pretty unique situation and I could well be wrong.

Baseball contracts exist on two different planes: Raw payroll and average annual value. The former is simply what a team will actually have to pay the player based on what is due that season, while the latter is an average of all the guaranteed money of the contract over all the guaranteed years. Payroll is a matter of an organization’s liquidity, AAV is what’s used in the calculation of the team’s competitive balance tax figure.

In Hamels’ case, the buyout is guaranteed and would have been rolled into the AAV of his base contract that ran through 2018. As such, my understanding is that the Rangers (and the Phillies before them, with the Cubs assuming a prorated portion for his time there) have already borne the weight of the $6 million in their CBT figures.That would mean only the remaining $14 million of his 2019 option would apply to Chicago’s upcoming luxury tax figure.

So Hamels would still be collecting $20 million in salary, all of which would come from the Cubs, but the Cubs would only have to count $14 million of it toward their CBT number. So the money the Rangers would have sent the Cubs was not a matter of cap relief, but would have helped with payroll. Not that Tom Ricketts is worried about a few million; he loses that much each year the pockets of his dry cleaning. But it could mean quite a bit to a team that may not be as flush with cash.

Ideally, the intricacies of Hamels’ cap hit will be inconsequential if the Cubs front office gets the green light to blow past the $206 million CBT threshold for 2019. But if they are under orders to once again dance the limbo, and if my understanding of the situation is wrong, that $6 million represents nearly 3 percent of the total they’ve got to work with. That would make things interesting and would give rise to the temptation to do a new deal and lower the AAV.

Again, though, I don’t think the Cubs would be on the hook for $20 million in AAV if they pick up the option and I don’t think they’ll be concerned about the tax threshold either way. So all of this has been an overly-detailed way of saying that all signs point toward the Cubs picking up Hamels’ option for 2019. In fact, I’ll go ahead and guarantee that’s exactly what they do (which means I probably just jinxed it).

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  1. I think you have to take that option, offer Chavez a contract, and look to trade Q and Chatwood. I think 3 lefties are a mistake. Well unless Kershaw opts out. Then three is fine ??

    Chatwood…take what you can get in relief or best prospect offered.

    As for finances, I thought this was an off-season the Cubs definitely blew past the luxury tax?

  2. I would like to see a rotation of Lester (L), Darvish (R), Hamels (L), Quintana (L) and Kyle Hendricks (R) next year, with Tyler Chatsworth, Drew Smyly and Mike Montgomery in the background. Chatsworth is not going anywhere, unless the Cubs want to dump the remaining $25 million dollars in guarantee salary and get nothing in return.

    The bullpen, with good health (cross your fingers), would have Brandon Morrow, Pedro Strop (if they pick up his 6.5 million dollar option), Carl Edwards, Jessie Chavez, Steve Ciscek (sic), and Brandon Kintzler from the right side, and Montgomery, Duensing, Smyly and Rosario from the left side.

    I don’t see the Cubs picking up any big name free agents. They will probably look for a backup shortstop if they decide to cut the cord with Addison Russell. If they do go after Harper and blow up the luxury tax cap, they will probably unload Schwarber or Happ because the outfield would be too crowded with Harper, Heyward, Almora, Happ, Schwarber and Zobrist. After 2019, the salaries of Zobrist, Morrow, Cole Hamels (assuming they only pick up his one year 20 million dollars’ option), Pedro Strop, Brian Duensing, Brandon Kintzler come off the books, so it is possible they suffer the luxury tax hit for one year if they pick up Harper. Keep in mind, quite a few of the young Cubs will be arbitration eligible after 2018 and upcoming years (Hendricks, Baez, Bryant and Contreras to name a few).

    There is absolutely zero chance they try to sign Kershaw.

    1. the cubs will most definitely make either big trades or sign a big free agent. They cannot stay status quo with the same roster. This roster has issues making consistent contact and scoring runs. The cannot continue to hope some of these young guys get alot better. Most of them are what they are at this point.

    2. I agree with your rotation. But a bullpen of Chatwood, Monty, Smyly, Morrow, Strop, CJ, Chavez, Ciscek, Kintzler, Duensing and Rosario is 3 too many. Rosario has minor league options left, so he can be stashed in AAA at the start of the season (and called up for injuries). But that’s still 2 too many. At $3.5M for his last year, dumping Duensing seems possible, if not likely. And then perhaps the Cubs play the disabled list game with what’s left (Spring training inflammation injuries are common).

      As for signing a big name FA, I agree with Brad that the Cubs have to bring in another professional hitter. Even at $14M, picking up Hamels options almost assures the Cubs will blow over $206M with the arbitration raises owed Bryant, Baez, Hendricks, etc. So, as Even suggests, what’s another $30M plus luxury tax to Ricketts, especially if such a Bryce Harper splash leads to a bigger TV deal. If that happens, Happ is probably the odd-man out. And in lieu of a good trade offer, the Cubs can stash him in AAA too.

      Russell is the biggest variable to me. Outside of Machado (who is terrible at SS), the market for shortstops is brutal. In other words, Russell is probably the Cubs best option. What we can’t really know is where Russell’s head is at and the degree to which he may be toxic to the clubhouse. Maybe the 40-game suspension closes the book on all this and Addy can focus on baseball again. Fans just don’t have much visibility into this.

      1. I agree with the rotation. You can only carry 13 pitchers. If everybody is healthy, which is rare, Rosario goes to the minors and the Cubs play around with the Disabled List for others without options.

        I think Happ would benefit from a year in Triple AAA. He would have struck out 250 times if he was a full time player. In 2020, he will replace Zobrist as the super utilityman.

        Russell was suspended for 40 games, but he has already served 12 games of that suspension. I think the Cubs bring him back due to his young age and potential for giving a young person a second chance. What he did was awful. Shortstops that can field like him, and have the potential to hit 20 plus home runs if fully healthy are in short supply.

        Bryant has to come back healthy. Contreras needs to figure out what caused his second half slump. Schwarber needs to be a little more aggressive. Gosh, he took a lot of called third strikes. Can Baez repeat his 2018 performance. Can Heyward stay healthy? Can Almora be more selective at the plate?

        Cubs are still a very young team. They won 95 games last year despite not hitting a lick after mid August. Can Darvish, Chatsworth and Morrow come back after injuries/major control problems? Will the Cubs go after Harper and take the luxury tax hit in 2019?

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