Should the Chicago Cubs pursue Cole Hamels or Jon Lester?


Its been an eventful offseason for Major League Baseball so far, although the Chicago Cubs have been largely quiet.

The Boston Red Sox have made several notable free agent signing splashes,the  Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals swapped young talent, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed Cuban defector Yasmany Tomas and, most recently, the Oakland Athletics agreed to send star third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays for Brett Lawrie and a trio of prospects. With the Winter Meetings not yet here, there’s still plenty more to come.

Of course, the Cubs have also made their own headlines, hiring former Tampa Bay Rays’ manager Joe Maddon, but  have yet to address what most think is a need for a legitimate ace at the top of their rotation.

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Many consider free agent left-hander Jon Lester to be the Cubs’ number one target right now but current Philadelphia Phillies’ ace Cole Hamels is also on Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s radar and deservedly so.  The two lefties compare quite favorably to each other. Both broke onto the scene back in 2006 with their respected teams, both are going to be entering their age 31 season in 2015 and both were major contributors in their respective World Series titles.  The Cubs have reportedly offered Lester a contract upwards of 135 million dollars over six years, while Hamels’ current contract has four years and $96 million remaining on what was a seven-year, $159 million dollar deal he signed in 2012, with a fifth year club option.

Hamels has compiled an impressive career thus far with a  3.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and an 8.5 K/BB ratio. Conversely, for Lester’s  career, he has a 3.58 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and a 8.2K/BB ratio per nine innings, advantage Hamels slightly. ERA+ , adjusted ERA for pitcher’s park effects, (average is 100) both lefties play in what are considered hitter-friendly parks, and Wrigley Field isn’t called the “friendly confines” for nothing. Hamels has a career 125+ adjusted ERA, Lester has a career 121+ adjusted ERA, meaning their earned run averages are better than they seem.

2014 proved to be career years for both aces as far as earn run average is concerned, they both posted identical marks of 2.46. Lester had a career-best 155+ adjusted ERA, good for third in the American League. Hamels’ also notched a career-best 151+ adjusted ERA in 2014, ranking him fifth in the National League. No doubt, the three-time All-Stars are workhorses as they both have made 30 starts or more in each of the past seven seasons.

“We feel there is a lot of momentum with the Cubs right now”-Jed Hoyer

The Cubs wanting Lester makes sense: they reside in a big market, have the money, wouldn’t have to give up any of their highly-touted prospects for him and it would put the team in a position of leverage before next season’s trade deadline. On the other hand, if they lose out on the former Boston ace, engaging in trade talks with a floundering Philadelphia organization also makes all the sense in the world.

The Phillies have a depleted farm system with an aging group of core players, including a trio of 36-year-old veterans in Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee and Chase Utley and 37-year-old Marlon Byrd – a former Cubs outfielder. Without a doubt, the North Siders would rather land a pitcher via free agency. Lester has been successful in a tougher division, the Cubs front office is familiar with him and he has pitched 205 less innings than Hamels, essentially a full season.

But  if need be, putting together a package for Hamels, who comes significantly cheaper from a dollar standpoint, should be relatively easy for the Chicago Cubs. For now, Epstein and company have their eyes set on Lester, and if that doesn’t work out, look for them to be major players for the Philadelphia southpaw.