In the days leading up to the (non-waiver) trade deadline, it was clear that the Cubs were squarely in the “buyers” camp. They were supposedly in on several players (including Zach Britton), and ultimately scooped up Cole Hamels from the Rangers for Eddie Butler and some minor leaguers.
But after the last two seasons, in which the Cubs went out and got José Quintana and Aroldis Chapman in blockbuster deals, you could be forgiven for expecting a similarly huge acquisition.
A lot of names were floated, and plenty of people seemed convinced that the Cubs needed, among others, Mets ace Jacob deGrom. But while a rotation featuring DeGrom, Lester, Hendricks, and Quintana would have been among the most formidable in the league, there are several excellent reasons to be very happy with something a lot more boring.
The Cubs’ biggest enemy is fatigue
While there are some excuses to be had – Yu Darvish being injured, Kyle Hendricks losing his sinker, Tyler Chatwood being Tyler Chatwood – Cubs starting pitching this year has been lackluster. With the Cubs’ offense – featuring the most runs per game in the NL – that doesn’t have to be a big deal. Your starters don’t necessarily need sub-3.50 ERAs if you’re putting up 5-plus runs per game. You just need innings – but the Cubs don’t have that, either.
A tweet from Christopher Kamka summed it up best: Cubs starters made it through 6+ innings just 42 times in their first 100 starts this year, compared to 51+ times every year from 2015-2017 (and an unreal 68 times in 2016).
That’s a huge burden on the bullpen, and it’s how the Cubs bullpen is liable to go from one of the best in the league to a tattered mess of pitchers with their arms falling apart.
That means stability is key – and Hamels has pitched 6+ innings 12 times out of 20 this season, and has failed to go 5 innings just once.
Have the results been excellent? Only away from Globe Life Park, which has been the most hitter-friendly place in baseball this year. But even so, if the Cubs wanted excellence, the price gets a lot higher.
And there’s a thing about that…
The Cubs can’t afford a deGrom
Cole Hamels cost the Cubs a depth starter (Eddie Butler), an A-ball lottery ticket (Rollie Lacy), and a player to be named later (probably also in A-ball). Offer that for DeGrom or any other starter with ace potential and you get laughed off the phone.
The Cubs’ last two major deadline deals were headlined by Gleyber Torres (the Chapman deal) and Eloy Jimenez (Quintana) – highly regarded prospects with star potential.
But here’s the thing: The Cubs don’t have those anymore. So if the Cubs wanted someone like DeGrom (or Britton, for that matter) they would have had to deal from their big-league roster. That’s someone like David Bote, Ian Happ, or probably both.
And that’s just to start the conversation, as it’d take high-level prospects besides that, and let’s not forget who’s back on the DL and who’s (essentially) filling in while Kris Bryant is on the shelf.
The point here is that the price tag for a DeGrom type would be insane (the Mets said they’d have to be “blown away”) – and that would hold true for just about any pitcher of a similar caliber.
Hamels gives the Cubs their flexibility back
This is related to the fatigue, above – but when the Cubs lost Darvish to the DL, it was about a lot more than the starting rotation. It meant their ultimate “swing man” – Mike Montgomery – moved to the rotation full-time instead of eating innings in long relief.
And while that’s gone pretty well – Monty’s pitched at least 5 innings every time out, and 6 innings six out of 10 times – it’s easy to overlook the value of a long-relief option until you’ve lost it. Especially when your fifth starter has trouble making it through even 5 innings without throwing 100 pitches and you’ve got to find a way to piecemeal the rest of the game from an already-taxed bullpen.
The addition of Hamels, then, means the Cubs have a long man out of the bullpen again, and for now that’s Chatwood. And while that’s not terribly reassuring, a new look from the bullpen could help get Chatwood on track, and he can at least eat innings in garbage time while Montgomery stays in the rotation – making the Hamels deal a straight rotation upgrade from Chatwood to Hamels.
And the fresher the bullpen, the more effective it can continue to be.
The Jesse Chavez deal was a clear depth trade that the Cubs desperately needed.
Now, with the addition of Hamels as well, getting through the remaining regular season slog of August and September looks a lot more promising.