According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs plan to pick up the $20 million option on Cole Hamels for 2019 rather than trying to work out a longer extension. No big news there. But what is really significant in Rosenthal’s report is that the Cubs may make a trade to clear salary prior to picking up said option.
#Cubs might make a trade to clear salary before picking up Hamels’ $20M option, sources tell The Athletic. At this point, a long-term deal for Hamels is unlikely. If Cubs decline option and make Hamels a free agent, #Rangers will pay his $6M buyout. But goal is to keep him.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 2, 2018
It’s possible such a trade would simply be a matter of clearing space on a pitching staff that will look a little bloated with Yu Darvish and Drew Smyly both (presumably) healthy next season. Depth is one thing, but it’d be really difficult to sort things out between seven or eight starting pitchers, especially when they’re all seasoned veterans.
But the other possibility, and I’ll admit to a little confirmation bias here, is that this is proof the Cubs won’t be blowing past the salary cap with nearly as much gusto as many of us had hoped they would. If they’re already looking to clear salary in early November to accommodate Hamels’ $20 million, it doesn’t bode well for their willingness to add $30-40 million in long-term average annual value for Bryce Harper.
More than likely, the Cubs will be looking to do a mix of both to clear space on the roster and the payroll. And Rosenthal did say “might,” so it’s not certain they’ll make a move right away. But they are going to have to make some eventually, and it sure sounds as though they’re going to be much more budget-conscious than many had anticipated.
Ed. note: For more on how Hamels’ salary impacts the Cubs next year, check out this piece from CI’s Moshe Willensky. And for a little on the dynamics of how picking up the option affects the Cubs’ relationship with the Rangers, read this. The lefty was reportedly open to an extension, but it sounds like either financial obligations or business relationships put the kibosh on that.