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Phillies icon Cole Hamels reportedly unlikely to reach free-agency this offseason



Cole Hamels spent the first nine-and-a-half seasons of his career with the Phillies. (Brian Michael/Phillies Nation)

Monday marks the 10-year anniversary of the Philadelphia Phillies clinching their second World Series title. But any hopes that Cole Hamels, who was the MVP of that series, will reach free-agency this offseason seem to have a good chance to be dashed this week.

Before Friday, Hamels’ current employer, the Chicago Cubs, have to either choose to exercise his $20 million option for 2019 or to buy him out of that option for $6 million, a tab that Connor Byrne of MLB Trade Rumors reminds us would be picked up by the Texas Rangers, who the Cubs acquired Hamels from prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. In any event, Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports says that Theo Epstein’s front-office plans to exercise Hamels’ option for 2019:

The Cubs will surely pick up the $20-million option on Cole Hamels rather than buy him out for $6 million.

A four-time All-Star, Hamels struggled mightily in his first 20 starts of the 2018 season with the Texas Rangers, posting a 4.72 ERA, 5.20 FIP and 1.8 HR/9. However, a trade to the Cubs – and away from Globe Life Park – allowed Hamels to rediscover the form that allowed him to finish in the top 10 of National League Cy Young voting four different times. Hamels posted a 2.36 ERA and a 3.42 FIP in 12 starts for the Cubs that spanned 76.1 innings.

Given that the Cubs have $70.5 million committed to the quartet of Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood and Jose Quintana in 2019, there was some thought that they may not exercise his option for 2019, adding another $20 million to their payroll. But Darvish posted a 4.95 ERA in eight starts in the first year of a lucrative six-year free-agent contract. A stress reaction in his pitching elbow officially ended Darvish’s season in late August and given his health history, it’s unclear what the Cubs can expect from Darvish moving forward. And Chatwood, who the Phillies reportedly offered a multi-year free-agent contract, posted a -0.5 fWAR in his first season with the Cubs, so he’s not a sure thing moving forward either.

In all likelihood, the Cubs will exercise Hamels’ option for 2019 and he’ll pitch for them in 2019. It doesn’t seem impossible, though, that they would be willing to listen to any potential trade offers for the soon-to-be 35-year-old this offseason. Think about it: Hamels was excellent down-the-stretch of the 2018 season, so it wouldn’t make any sense for the Cubs to decline Hamels option (even if they wouldn’t have to pay his buyout) and lose him in free-agency for nothing when he has value. It may very well be that Hamels’ greatest value to the Cubs will come on their team in 2019. But if they wanted to reallocate some of that $20 million that he’s due in 2019, they could pick up his option and trade him, allowing them to get at least some sort of return for him, which they wouldn’t if he left in free-agency.

Despite it being a poorly-kept secret that Hamels would have been keen on a return to the Phillies, general manager Matt Klentak never seemed especially interested in Hamels prior to the non-waiver trade deadline. In hindsight, he probably should have been, as Hamels found the fountain of youth for the Cubs, while four-fifths of the Phillies starting rotation posted an ERA north of five after the All-Star Break.

At his season-ending press conference, Phillies president Andy MacPhail spoke about a desire for the Phillies to add more left-handed pitching. If there was an ever an offseason to add a left-handed starter, this would be it. But a reunion with Hamels, a former first-round draft pick, feels unlikely.

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