Colbert Michael Hamels has been a study in contrasts over the course of his Cubs tenure, going from castoff to ace well worth his $20 million option before an oblique injury made him a liability. Now he’s a free agent with a desire to keep pitching for at least one more season, but for whom and at what price is very much in question.
The 35-year-old lefty started the season pitching almost like the perennial Cy Young candidate who led the Phillies to a title, posting a 2.92 ERA through 16 starts. Then he came out for the 2nd inning of his June 28 start in Cincinnati and threw one warmup pitch before walking off the mound favoring his left side. An oblique strain kept him out just over a month, after which he simply wasn’t the same pitcher.
His first start off the IL was a very promising effort that saw him strike out six Brewers while walking none over five shutout innings. But he would fail to complete that many frames in six of his final nine starts, posting a 6.57 ERA with 40 strikeouts and 21 walks over that period. There were times when he just wasn’t competitive out there, giving up hits in bunches and struggling with his command.
It was a rough finish that mirrored that of the team as a unit and may have sealed Hamels’ fate with the Cubs. After paying a premium for his services in 2019, it’s hard to imagine the front office bringing him back on anything less than a bargain deal. From the way Hamels discussed his future ($) with Patrick Mooney, however, he might just be open to that.
“I do understand what they have to go through, construct, identify,” Hamels said. “But I would love to be a Cub. And I know if it’s not the case, at least I left it out here. I wish I would have been able to do it a little bit better. I wish I was healthier in this situation. I do feel like I let them down.
“I let my teammates down, just because if I was at my best, I think the situation would be a lot different, so I do take that to heart.
More than just pride or a desire to go out on a high note, Hamels is coming at this from a very practical perspective. He enjoyed pitching in Chicago not only because of the city and the camaraderie, but because Wrigley Field suited his style to a much greater degree than did Globe Life Park in Arlington.
“I obviously do very well at Wrigley,” Hamels boasted as a means of making his case to return. “Hopefully, that’s what [the Cubs] think about. Otherwise, I know the other teams in the division are going to think about it. If you have to come to Wrigley three different times, I don’t pitch bad there.”
Wait, did he just…? Yeah, I think he baited the hook and gave the Cubs’ rivals a little food for thought. Not a bad strategy given how the Brewers and Cardinals love to load up on aging starters or how the Reds may be in the market for a veteran influence to offset Trevor Bauer’s quirky douchbaggery. Then again, the former Indian and noted brain genius posted a 6.39 ERA with Cincy and might need a lot more than a big brother.
Given the way Hamels so blatantly threw at Yadi Molina’s elbow guard, maybe he’d actually be a better fit in Pittsburgh. A new manager should put an end to the Pirates’ asinine head-hunting, though, so that probably rules it out as a destination.
The Cubs will be likewise ruled out if they’re indeed going to maintain a measure of frugality despite soiling the bed most of the season. Seeing other teams succeed with lower payrolls and more homegrown talent doesn’t lend credence to notion that the front office will spend its way out of the the last few seasons of diminishing returns, especially when there’s a leaguewide effort to limit payrolls.
You’d think having a guy nicknamed Hollywood would help with the launch of a new regional sports network, but Sinclair Broadcasting seems to believe the Cubs’ intrinsic cachet is all they need. Even if they do end up securing carriage deals prior to the start of spring training, Theo Epstein has said the increased revenue promised by the business side isn’t expected to impact payroll for another few years.
All of which is to say that Hamels isn’t coming back if another team can offer him more money, even if he’s only seeking a relatively modest sum. Not that the Cubs really need to worry much about securing another aging lefty who really can’t be counted out as any more than a mid-rotation starter at the very best. If they’re not willing to go big for Gerrit Cole, they may just see whether Tyler Chatwood can give it another go in the rotation.
But enough of all that talk, we’ve got to save a little speculation for later in the offseason. As for Hamels, I fully expect to see the worst possible scenario unfold. By which I mean he accepts a reasonable deal with a division rival and then absolutely shoves against the Cubs two or three times next season.