DENVER – Cole Hamels won’t be wearing a Cubs uniform this season.
A major-league official put that in no uncertain terms on Thursday after 97.5 The Fanatic reported the Cubs had made a waiver claim on the Philadelphia Phillies ace. That blockbuster August deal isn’t happening now, but it’s a preview of where the Cubs are heading next.
The Cubs are shopping for a No. 1 starter and will pay market rate. They’re looking beyond just sign-and-flip guys and back-of-the-rotation depth. They want someone who can take the ball for Game 1 of a playoff series and perform on a cool October night at Wrigley Field.
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein reinforced that idea after calling up Javier Baez from Triple-A Iowa and putting him in a lineup with Arismendy Alcantara, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Elite prospects Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Addison Russell, Albert Almora and Kyle Schwarber are potential everyday players.
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For an imbalanced organization, it’s all about the pitching now.
“We’ve been open about the fact that it’s an area we’re going to have to address,” Epstein said. “We’re going to have to allocate some resources to address it, whether those resources come in the form of dollars, or in the form of players that we ultimately trade to get some pitching.
“But we’re not in a rush. I don’t think we can force things and make things happen. We’re not at a point where things are going to magically come together all at once.”
Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. sat on the sidelines during all the wheeling and dealing before the July 31 trade deadline, which did not go over well in The City of Brotherly Love. A frustrated fan base and a tough media market wants to see changes.
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The Phillies are a last-place team with an aging core, but they can build around their homegrown World Series MVP and a multi-billion dollar TV deal with Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.
Amaro can simply pull Hamels back off revocable waivers. The 30-year-old lefty is a three-time All-Star who’s accounted for at least 208 innings in each of the previous four seasons. Hamels, who has some no-trade protection, is signed through 2018 and guaranteed $22.5 million annually (with an option for 2019).
The Cubs are prepared to make a nine-figure investment in a frontline starter. They rolled over the savings after getting blown away by the New York Yankees in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. They tried to keep the door open for Jeff Samardzija to return in 2016 after trading him to the Oakland A’s. They figure to play up the Boston Red Sox connections and make a run at Jon Lester, who’s about to become a free agent.
“We’re starting to integrate some talented prospects onto our major-league roster,” Epstein said, “and that process will continue over the next year or two. So are we mindful of the fact that we need to address our impact pitching and our pitching depth? Absolutely. Will that be our top priority this winter? Yeah, it certainly will be. But I think it’s more important we make the right moves more than we make those moves immediately.
“We look at all seasons in concert, so we really look at this offseason and next offseason as a window during which we have to add – and will add – impact pitching. We won’t necessarily look at it as exclusively this offseason.
“Will we try to get the ball rolling? Will we try to add some impact pitching? Yeah, we will. But I think we take a slightly broader view of when that has to happen.”
Before the Hamels-to-Chicago rumors hit Twitter, Epstein didn’t sound all that optimistic about making an August waiver deal.
“Maybe, probably nothing big,” Epstein said. “Anything’s possible. We’ve seen a couple big deals in August in recent years, but it’s more the exception than the norm. I can’t promise you anything, but we are looking at August as a potential opportunity to acquire players who fit for the future.”