With the way he performed for them down the stretch, it seemed a good chance the Cubs would pick up the $20 million option on Cole Hamels’ contract. Still, that’s a lot of salary for a pitcher heading to his age-35 season, especially if the impulse to pick up the option is based on just 12 starts.
Theo Epstein and company got creative.
Hamels’ contract had a $6 million buyout if the option was declined, and the Rangers — who traded Hamels to the Cubs last July — were on the hook for that, per the trade agreement. How could the Cubs fray costs while keeping Hamels? Herein lies the answer.
The Cubs traded Drew Smyly and a player to be named later to the Rangers for a player to be named later on Friday and picked up Hamels’ option. Smyly missed all of 2018 after having Tommy John surgery. The Cubs had signed him to a two-year, $10 million deal last offseason. The deal is backloaded, though, and Smyly is making $7 million in 2019.
Essentially, with this move, the Rangers pay an extra $1 million than they were going to pay if the Cubs declined the Hamels option while getting Smyly. The Cubs get to keep Hamels for what is tantamount to $13 million instead of $20 million.
Smyly, 29, was 7-12 with a 4.88 ERA (82 ERA+) in 2016. Prior to that, he had a 3.24 ERA in 395 career innings pitched. There’s always been upside, but we’ve yet to see a true breakout. He’ll try to make that happen for the Rangers in 2019.
Hamels, 34, was 9-12 with a 3.78 ERA overall last year, but he pitched to a 2.36 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 74 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings with the Cubs after being dealt.
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