Although all eyes are currently focused upon yet-another prized prospect breaking onto the big league scene, the Chicago Cubs’ front office has its eyes on the future.
The July 31 trade deadline is less than a month-and-a-half away and based on comments made by Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, the team will be in ‘buy’ mode for the first time in years.
"“Often, pennant races can be won or lost based on who has the best starting depth,” Epstein told media, including CSN Chicago. “Frankly, that’s not an area of strength for us right now. So if you asked (what’s the) one single thing we’re spending most of our time on — besides urgent matters that come up — it’s sort of game-planning how to establish a little bit more starting depth right now. We’re going to need it.”"
Chicago currently ranks seventh in Major League Baseball with a cumulative 3.57 ERA – but their starting earned run average is at 3.71, while the bullpen comes in at 3.31 across 195 2/3 innings of work.
You could make the case that Jason Hammel, currently slotted in as the team’s No. 3 starter, has been the team’s most solid pitching asset. The veteran has a 2.81 ERA (ranks ninth in the league), to go along with a 3.17 FIP and 0.963 WHIP.
He followed a horrendous start to the season with a 4-1 record in the month of May. His ERA has bounced around from 6.23 to 1.76 back up to 6.61 in the season’s first three months, leaving a major hole atop the Chicago rotation.
Which brings us back to Epstein’s comments about the club’s biggest need this summer.
The most oft-rumored trade target – at least in Cubs’ fans minds – is Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels. To be frank, it makes sense for more than one reason.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark rated Hamels as the top-ranked trade target this summer, but didn’t have Chicago landing him. The appeal is that the left-hander is owed just $90 million moving forward – far less than most aces in the free agent market.
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This season, Hamels has pitched to a 2.96 clip – right in-line with the 2.98 earned run average he’s posted over the last five years with the Phils.
He’s currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, which throws his near-term future into question, but his long-term value remains high.
Adding Hamels to the mix ahead of Lester and Arrieta would take a Cubs staff that is clearly missing something and propel it to the front-of-the-pack in the National League.
The only question now is this: can Epstein find a deal that balances the short-term needs of a team in the push for a postseason berth and an organization nearing the completion of a half-decade-long rebuild?
If anyone can, it’s him. And when he finds such a deal, the Chicago Cubs become a shoo-in for the postseason.