With two outs in the 8th inning of last night’s laugher, Joe Maddon assembled his infield on the mound and made it appear as though Anthony Rizzo was going to get the ball. Then the manager faked a hand-off to Rizzo and called for Victor Caratini, who was making his second appearance on the mound in four days. Rizzo would get his chance, though, taking over for Caratini to close out the D-backs in the top of the 9th.
It was a masterful performance that saw the erstwhile first baseman eephus his way to an out as he needed only two pitches to retire A.J. Pollock on a fly ball to center. In keeping with the carnival atmosphere of the lopsided loss and the unlikely relievers, it appeared as if Statcast borrowed a radar gun from one of those “See How Hard You Throw” booths to gauge Rizzo’s velocity.
Efficient, good command, keeps hitters off-balance.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 24, 2018
Both offerings were classified sliders, though neither slud very well. The first registered at 53.6 mph, sailing wide for a ball, and the second zipped in at 62, bisecting the plate and inducing the final out for the visitors. Pleased with his effort, Rizzo announced his retirement from pitching immediately after the game.
“The end. That’s it,” Rizzo said with a smile that barely masked tears as he bid adieu to his lifelong dream of pitching in the majors. “It was awesome. I got to do what I wanted to do. A lot of fun and a career zero ERA now.”
Hearing that outpouring of emotion as Rizzo walked away from the mound forever was like watching Billy Chapel at the end of For Love of the Game. Hey, wasn’t Kevin Costner still wanting to make another baseball movie, one about the Cubs? This would provide the perfect template, though Costner would probably have to display worse mechanics and slow his fastball down a little to play Rizzo.
If nothing else, Rizzo’s brief exhibition offered a little levity during what was otherwise a lackluster game.
Cubs send Benedict to scout Eovaldi
We’ve mentioned Rays starter Nathan Eovaldi as a potential Cubs target and it looks as though things could be getting pretty serious on that front. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported that the Cubs have been keeping close tabs on the former Yankee who’s now made 10 starts since coming back from his second Tommy John surgery in 2016.
And we’re not just talking about a regional scout heading down to check out one of Eovaldi’s starts. Feinsand wrote that the Cubs had Jim Benedict following the Rays for a week to gather intel. While that name might not mean much to a lot of fans, Benedict is a baseball lifer who was hired this past offseason to oversee the organization’s pitching development.
The Rays are said to have interest in retaining Eovaldi, who’s set to become a free agent after this year. They could still try the yo-yo trade and get a prospect return while going after him again this winter. His overall line was marred by a disastrous outing in which he allowed eight earned runs to the Twins over 2.2 innings back on July 13, but he’s averaging 97 on the fastball and is posting a paltry 1.26 BB/9 that ranks third lowest in MLB among pitchers with at least 50 IP.
“His stuff right now is better than it’s been at any point in his career,” one talent evaluator said. “There’s the health history, which is a drawback; just how many bullets does he have for the rest of the season? But what he’s bringing to the table right now, he’s a difference-maker.”
So let’s see: Elite strike-thrower, high velocity, no contractual commitment beyond this season. Sounds like a perfect fit for the Cubs. There are obvious health concerns as the season goes on, but the actual sure seems to outweigh the physical.
Cubs looking at Hamels also
There have been some fringe rumors about Cole Hamels being a target for the Phillies and Nationals, though the latter had holes poked in it as soon as it was floated out there. The 34-year-old lefty is having what is almost certainly the worst season of his career, but he’s in the final season of a seven-year, $159 million deal and could be attractive to a contender looking for a boost down the stretch.
It’s kind of like the Justin Verlander hubbub last season, except for a few nagging issues. Verlander, who was only about two months younger at the time of his trade to Houston than Hamels is right now, was actually throwing with higher average velocity (95.4) than he had since 2011 and his numbers were improving.
Hamels, on the other hand, has seen his fastball drop to its lowest velo (91.4) since 2012 and he’s riding a nauseatingly steep downward trend. The southpaw has allowed four or more runs in each of his last five starts and has allowed seven runs in three of those. And even though he gave up only three earned runs in one of those big games, it was over two-thirds of an inning.
The financial risk isn’t quite what it was with Verlander, who still had some pretty big salary figures due him in 2018 and ’19. Hamels is only owed the remainder of this year’s $23.5 million, $2.5 million of which is still being paid by the Phillies. But that’s still something in the neighborhood of $8 million for a pitcher who looks like he’s fading hard. Then there’s the $6 million buyout on his $20 million team option for 2019, which there’s no way a team would pick up.
Between the poor performance, high price, and short term, the Rangers can’t be looking to get much in return for Hamels. They’ll probably have to offset some of that salary as well, though how much could depend on what they get back in terms of prospects.
Oh, Hamels also has a partial no-trade clause that gives him a little control over where he might be sent. As Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported, the Cubs were in attendance at Monday’s start and are one of the teams to which Hamels can’t block a trade. Not that giving up seven runs on nine hits (two homers) over five innings had anyone salivating over the prospect of bringing him in.
Among teams repped here at Hamels' start:
Teams he can't block trade to: Atlanta, Cubs, Nats, Phils
Teams he can block trade to: Yankees, D'Backs
Safe to assume there has been a level of conversation between Rangers and all teams here.
— Evan Grant (@Evan_P_Grant) July 24, 2018
In order to see all the possible outcomes of the coming deadline season, I went forward in time to view alternate futures. My review of the 14,000,605 iterations revealed that there’s only one in which the Cubs deal for Hamels. And in a poetic twist, he ends up spurring their playoff run for a second time. Remember, it was essentially his no-hitter in Chicago in 2015 that spurred a white-hot run to end the season.
Thing is, we’re in one of the other 14,000,604 realities.
Whatever direction they go, it’s pretty clear the Cubs need pitching help. While the rotation hasn’t looked like poop lately, they appear to have a bunch of number twos at best. And when they had to press a sixth starter into action, well, that actually did look pretty crappy.
Give me Eovaldi and Zach Britton and let’s get to August.