The Chicago Cubs got their first glimpse of star pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay on Thursday night, and his dazzling performance could bring about some questions regarding the future of the rotation.
The Chicago Cubs’ Adbert Alzolay was tremendous in his MLB debut, pitching four innings and striking out four while giving up one run on just one hit, a homer by Todd Frazier. He showed off plus velocity with the fastball and a hard-biting curve but also surprised by executing with a deceptive changeup.
Of course, general bullpen struggles and Kyle Hendricks‘ shoulder impingement opened the door for Alzolay to ascend to the bigs after he had dominated Triple-A ball.
Alzolay might have started his career out of the bullpen, but he could be starting games before the year is over. Now that he has arrived, what kind of impact might he have on the future of the rotation?
Tough decisions looming
When Cole Hamels arrived in Chicago last summer, the hope was that he could revitalize his career after struggling with the Texas Rangers. Hamels’ performance in the second half of 2018 all but forced the Cubs to pick up his $25 million option.
Hamels has been lights-out once again this season. Through 15 starts, the 35-year-old lefty has a 2.85 ERA in 91 2/3 innings of work. He has been one of the most invaluable additions of this recent Cubs era.
And yet–with his contract expiring after this season–the Cubs have a tough decision to make, especially if Alzolay continues to fulfill his potential.
Hamels will be 36 in December. While he has been terrific in a Cubs uniform, he may try to command another high salary unless he and the front office re-negotiate a multi-deal with a lesser annual value.
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Besides, do the Cubs want to gamble with the future of their rotation on Hamels continuing to defy his age? That payroll money could go towards adding more bullpen arms, which is a necessity each and every winter.
While that situation is more immediate, the Cubs also have a club option on Jose Quintana for 2020, and he will be unrestricted after the 2020 season (should they accept that option). So if they do elect to re-sign Hamels, Quintana could be the odd man out.
Although Quintana has pitched better in 2019, he has hardly been the premium asset that the Cubs hoped they were acquiring when they gave up Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease to bring him to the North Side. And given that “Q” will likely want a multi-year deal, the Cubs might elect to let him walk after 2020.
Jon Lester is another guy to think about. Yes, he is likely the best free agent signing in Cubs history. He will also be 37 in the final year of his contract in 2021.
Can Alzolay stay healthy?
Of course, these looming decisions will not be as difficult if Alozlay cannot produce or stay on the field. He missed most of 2018 with a lat injury, which he re-aggravated in Spring Training this year.
Although it looks like that issue may be in the rearview mirror, the Cubs must be cautious with his usage. Alzolay is arguably the most vital piece to the future of the club given the age of the rotation and the lack of homegrown pitching pieces.
If he does live up to the hype, however, Alzolay’s arrival could have a drastic impact on how the front office deals with the likes of Hamels and Quintana in the future.