Cubs pick up Hamels’ option, deal Smyly to Texas

CHICAGO — Cole Hamels is staying with the Cubs.

The Cubs picked up Hamels’ $20 million option on Friday, giving the rotation a significant boost heading into the 2019 season. If the Cubs had declined the option, Hamels would have received a $6 million buyout from the Rangers. The Cubs acquired the left-hander on July 27 from Texas and he made a great first impression, posting a 4-3 record and 2.36 ERA in 12 starts.

CHICAGO — Cole Hamels is staying with the Cubs.

The Cubs picked up Hamels’ $20 million option on Friday, giving the rotation a significant boost heading into the 2019 season. If the Cubs had declined the option, Hamels would have received a $6 million buyout from the Rangers. The Cubs acquired the left-hander on July 27 from Texas and he made a great first impression, posting a 4-3 record and 2.36 ERA in 12 starts.

In a related move, the Cubs are trading left-hander Drew Smyly, who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2016 because of Tommy John elbow surgery and is due to be paid $7 million next year, to the Rangers.

“Cole was such a breath of fresh air for us,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said at the end of the season. “He made an unbelievable impression. … He’s a pro’s pro. He contributed tremendously on the field and off the field. He was great — an engaged, positive, accountable presence in that clubhouse who cares about his teammates and helps make them better. He’s absolutely someone we’d love to have as part of the mix going forward.”

Hamels will join starters Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish, giving the Cubs a formidable rotation in their bid to reclaim the National League Central.

“The Cubs have always been one of the top teams who I’ve always wanted to be a player for,” Hamels said after the Cubs were eliminated in the NL Wild Card Game by the Rockies on Oct. 2. “The Chicago Cubs were always a team I would’ve loved an opportunity to be able to play in front of this crowd and this organization and to see these types of players. We have a tremendous clubhouse presence and tremendous talent and it was great to be able to toe the rubber and have these guys behind me.”

Asked at that time if he wanted to return, Hamels said yes, adding it was “a fun experience to be a part of and hopefully something I’ll be a part of next year.”

However, the addition of Hamels’ $20 million salary may limit what the Cubs can do this offseason regarding free agency. According to Fangraphs, Hamels’ salary will give the Cubs the highest estimated payroll among Major League teams before free agency begins on Saturday, topping $200 million. That includes the projected 2019 salaries for arbitration-eligible players.

During his end of the season wrap-up, Epstein stressed the Cubs would make certain they had enough starting pitching in 2019. Darvish made only eight starts because of injuries, Tyler Chatwood struggled in his 20 starts, and the Cubs ended up using 12 different starters.

Hamels, who will turn 35 on Dec. 27, was encouraged by what he saw.

“They’ve got quite a few more years to put a dent in the National League and bring home a couple more World Series,” he said of the Cubs.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

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