The Cubs have made a flurry of moves over the past couple days, picking up and declining options on various players. Most of those were pretty straightforward decisions, but the choice on what to do with Cole Hamels was imbued with a bit more nuance. In the end, the Cubs opted not to extend the $17.8 million qualifying offer to the veteran lefty.
While actually down $100,000 from last season, that figure was just a little too much after having just paid Hamels $20 million for his most recent campaign. More than strictly a matter of their own financial concerns, choosing not to extend the qualifying offer is a goodwill gesture to a guy who wants to keep pitching for at least one more year, whether that’s in Chicago or elsewhere.
“I do understand what they have to go through, construct, identify,” Hamels said shortly after the season ended. “But I would love to be a Cub. And I know if it’s not the case, at least I left it out here. I wish I would have been able to do it a little bit better. I wish I was healthier in this situation. I do feel like I let them down.”
The Cubs are in need of pitching help and would surely be willing to bring Hamels back should they be able to work out something much more budget friendly, hence no QO. At the same time, they did the lefty a favor by keeping him free from the draft-pick compensation he’d have been saddled with had he turned the offer down.
Of course, the Cubs may have also done a favor for one of their NL Central rivals. Hamels really loves pitching at Wrigley, something he believes will translate no matter what uniform he’s wearing.
“I obviously do very well at Wrigley,” Hamels not. “Hopefully, that’s what [the Cubs] think about. Otherwise, I know the other teams in the division are going to think about it. If you have to come to Wrigley three different times, I don’t pitch bad there.”
If they’re truly concerned about the competitive balance tax and want to keep payroll somewhat in check, the Cubs aren’t going to be in the market for either Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg. The next tier of pitchers like Zack Wheeler, Dallas Keuchel, and Hyun-Jin Ryu would all cost significantly less, but will still command deals with similar AAV to the qualifying offer.
Should the Cubs opt not to swim in even those waters, they could circle back to Hamels. But even that is projected to cost $26-30 million over the next two seasons, so they’re more likely to stick with an internal option like Alec Mills or Tyler Chatwood if they don’t make a big splash.