CHICAGO -- The Cubs' projected 2019 rotation could be the strongest ever now that the team has secured Cole Hamels by picking up his $20 million option.
Of course, the Cubs felt their 2018 rotation would be the best.
Hamels will join starters Jonathan Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana, giving the Cubs a formidable group in their bid to reclaim the National League Central.
Chicago also has Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood and are counting on both getting back on track. Chatwood made 20 starts but finished the season in the bullpen and was the Major League leader in walks. Darvish was limited to eight starts because of injuries and replaced by Mike Montgomery, whose role for 2019 is still to be determined.
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"I fully expect [Darvish] to be healthy and go do his thing and punch out a lot of guys and be part of a really great starting staff next year," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said of the right-hander, who signed a six-year, $126 million deal last February.
The Cubs were able to keep Quintana at an affordable rate, picking up his $10.5 million option this week. However, the addition of Hamels' 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, topping $200 million. That includes the projected 2019 salaries for arbitration-eligible players.
The Cubs viewed Drew Smyly as an option for 2019 when they signed him to a two-year, $10 million contract, but in a related move, they dealt the lefty to the Rangers on Friday. Smyly hasn't pitched in the big leagues since '16 after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his elbow and was owed $7 million next year. The Cubs also are sending a player to be named later for a player to be named later to complete the Smyly deal.
The Cubs' Minor League system has yet to produce a starter. Right-hander Adbert Alzolay was a possibility this year but was sidelined with an injury.
Hamels, who was the Rangers' Opening Day starter, gives them a solid addition. The Cubs acquired the veteran on July 27 from Texas, and he posted a 4-3 record and 2.36 ERA in 12 starts. If the Cubs had declined the option, Hamels would have received a $6 million buyout from the Rangers.
"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 lefty, 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," Hamels said of the Cubs.