The Chicago Cubs acquired Texas Rangers starter Cole Hamels Thursday for Eddie Butler, minor leaguer Rollie Lacy and a player to be named later. The move signals a clear attempt to jumpstart their shaky starting rotation and set them hopefully on a course for World Series contention.
Hamels, 34, is by no means the pitcher he was earlier in his career. The Cubs aren’t getting a bonafide ace or even a solid No. 2 or 3 starter. His 5-9 and 4.72 ERA are nothing to get excited about, but there is a decent chance he can recapture enough magic by entering a winning situation.
Hamels should benefit from having a much more reliable defense behind him. The Rangers have one of the worst defenses in the majors, ranking second worst in errors and worst in fielding percentage as a collective unit.
He also should see a natural spike in his overall performance by leaving the American League. Facing a pitcher instead of a designated hitter in the opposing lineup always alleviates the pain. Not to mention, the league is loaded with some of the best offensive units in the majors.
Hamels faced juggernauts like the Oakland Athletics, Houston Astros, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians in 10 of his 20 starts. All those teams rank in or near the top 10 in runs, hits and home runs in the majors.
A new home ballpark might be the best elixir for Hamels. His home/road splits this season are staggering to say the least. Globe Life Park in Arlington, TX is a very hitter-friendly ballpark, so his overall numbers might improve by just leaving Texas.
Home/road splits were a major reason the Cubs signed Tyler Chatwood to be their No. 5 starter last offseason. Instead of vastly improving on the north side, Chatwood has had atrocious command and leads the majors with 85 walks in 19 starts. The second highest total in the majors is 64 by White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito.
Even if Hamels only ends up replacing Chatwood down the stretch as a No. 5 starter, the acquisition may be worth it. However, there is a solid chance he can the No. 4 guy in the rotation and a key contributor come playoff time. While Mike Montgomery has pitched well for the injured Yu Darvish, he’s shown signs of regression lately.
Darvish, who hasn’t pitched for the Cubs since May 20, isn’t expected to return until mid-August or September. If he were to return and pitch at the elite level he’s capable of, then the Cubs have a good problem on their hands. But at this point, it would be foolish for Joe Maddon and the front office to rely on any production from him for the rest of the season.
At his best, Hamels can be a solid contributor for the Cubs the rest of the regular season and in the postseason. He might not be the starter he was earlier in his career with the Philadelphia Phillies, and that’s an unreasonable expectation to have with a pitcher his age.
Not everyone can capture lighting in a bottle like Justin Verlander did after last August’s waiver trade to the Astros. That’s an unfair comparison given that Verlander’s career resume is much more stacked compared to Hamels’ body of work. But Hamels can certainly achieve the success he had when he first arrived with the Rangers.
When he was traded to Texas in 2015, he went 7-1 with a 3.66 ERA during a division race. The following season when the Rangers won their second consecutive AL West title, he was 15-5 with 3.32 ERA and earned a fourth career All-Star appearance.
Even if the Cubs see a slightly watered down version of that, it would be welcomed with open arms. Given the low price tag of renting him, the trade represents the perfect example of a low-risk option with a potentially high reward.
At the very least, Hamels can give them a reliable starter to trot out every fifth day and a veteran-tested arm with plenty of high-pressure, postseason experience. That could be enough to recharge the rotation and set the Cubs on a course for NL and World Series contention.