Cubs hoping Hamels can help solve pitching rotation problem
Back in February, March or even early April, few could have seen this scenario unfolding for the Cubs: that they'd be looking for a starting pitcher at the July 31 trading deadline.
But here they are.
Severe underperformance by free-agent signing Tyler Chatwood and the inability of expensive free-agent signing Yu Darvish to take the field forced the Cubs to scour the market.
When spring training started, the Cubs were supposed to have the best rotation in the National League, if not all of baseball, with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Darvish, Jose Quintana and Chatwood.
But baseball intervened, and here we are.
Lester is an all-star, even if the metrics tell a cautionary tale. Hendricks, the ERA champion two years ago, has struggled with his mechanics. Quintana has been up and down. And Chatwood has been all over the place, if not all over the plate, with his lack of command.
Darvish has not pitched since May 20 because of triceps tendinitis, and it's anybody's guess when he'll pitch again.
So Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer did what they had to do late Thursday by trading for 34-year-old lefty Cole Hamels, whose best days may be behind him but who may indeed help the Cubs hold on to their lead in the National League Central and make their fourth straight postseason appearance.
Hamels, who tossed a no-hitter at the Cubs -- amid trade rumors he might be coming to Chicago -- on July 25, 2015, was only 5-9 with a 4.72 ERA for the Texas Rangers, who sent him to North Side with cash considerations for pitcher Eddie Butler, minor-league pitcher Rollie Lacy and a player to be named later.
"We're betting on the person," Cubs president Theo Epstein told reporters Friday in St. Louis. "The makeup and the experience matters, especially when you're entering a pennant race in the middle of the season.
"We were looking beyond his recent struggles, and the pitcher overall, and the man overall that he is."
Hamels seems to be a pretty good man. He was the 2008 World Series and National League championship series MVP for the Philadelphia Phillies, who beat the Tampa Bay Rays that year in the Series. The Rays were managed then by current Cubs skipper Joe Maddon.
Before leaving the Rangers for the Cubs, Hamels addressed reporters Friday in Texas.
"I'm excited to be able to continue my baseball career with the Cubs," he said. "It's been a dream come true to grow up watching the Cubs play as a kid. Always enjoyed playing at Wrigley, so I think to be able to be a part of that organization with the group of guys that they have, I'm really excited to get that started and head into the postseason with those guys.
"I've been fortunate in my career to get numerous postseason appearances. It's always that chase for that World Series, and once you get one, you start to realize how difficult it is to achieve that. Knowing that I'm going to a team that has the best of intentions and such a strong desire to win another one, definitely want to be a part of that and try to help them do so. Especially in that city, they love baseball so much, it will be a tremendous journey for the next couple months."
Hamels likely will join the Cubs rotation during their two-game series Tuesday-Wednesday at Pittsburgh.
Maddon is fond of going with a six-man rotation for short stretches, but both he and Epstein have voiced concern about the innings piling up on Montgomery, a swing man who has been in the rotation since late May, when Darvish went on the disabled list.
It could be that Montgomery goes back to the bullpen as the Cubs leave Chatwood in the rotation and try to solve the puzzle that he has become.
Even though the Cubs didn't give up a whole lot to get Hamels, these developments serve as a stark reminder that proclamations made in March rarely hold true in July, August and September.