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Inbox: Is Hamels going to return to Cubs?

Beat reporter Carrie Muskat answers questions from fans
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

What are the odds of the Cubs re-signing Cole Hamels?
-- Justin G., Chandler, Ariz.

After the season ended abruptly with the loss in the National League Wild Card Game, both Hamels and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein expressed hope that the left-hander would return. Hamels has a $20 million option for 2019 (and a $6 million buyout that the Rangers would be obligated to pay). Epstein said they were impressed at how quickly Hamels fit in. The Cubs' rotation options could include Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks, Mike Montgomery, Yu Darvish, Drew Smyly and Tyler Chatwood.

What are the odds of the Cubs re-signing Cole Hamels?
-- Justin G., Chandler, Ariz.

After the season ended abruptly with the loss in the National League Wild Card Game, both Hamels and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein expressed hope that the left-hander would return. Hamels has a $20 million option for 2019 (and a $6 million buyout that the Rangers would be obligated to pay). Epstein said they were impressed at how quickly Hamels fit in. The Cubs' rotation options could include Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks, Mike Montgomery, Yu Darvish, Drew Smyly and Tyler Chatwood.

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"We're set up to have some depth in the starting staff next year," Epstein said last week at his end of the season wrap up. "We're not looking to get rid of starting pitchers. We're looking to have as much depth as possible, so we can withstand multiple injuries."

Obviously, it's hard to tell which way the Cubs are looking, but who do you think is the better option, Bryce Harper or Manny Machado? I would take either one, but I think the outfield is filled and with the Addison Russell situation, there could be a hole in the infield.
-- Alec M., Buffalo Grove, Ill.

All Epstein would say about the free-agent market is that they're still discussing their financial flexibility.

"We've spent a lot of money on players, and that's not always the answer -- to rush back out and spend more," Epstein said. "There are a lot of attractive players out there, and some impact players out there and we'll get together and figure out what's possible, what's not possible and all the best approaches to this offseason."

Harper and Machado are both attractive. Harper, 25, has had fun fueling the rumor mill, from naming his dog Wrigley to posing with Las Vegas buddy Kris Bryant and their wives with the hashtag #Back2BackOneDay. He also batted .249 with a career-high 169 strikeouts this season with the Nationals. Machado, 26, is buddies with Albert Almora Jr. -- the two are so tight, they call each other "cousin," and they used to pretend they were on the same team playing in the World Series. Machado batted .297 with the Orioles and Dodgers this season. Who's the better option? If Russell does not return, Machado would be a better fit.

It seemed the Cubs were frequently in trouble in the first inning or at least running into high pitch counts. Where did the Cubs rank in terms of first inning runs allowed?
-- Dave P., Portland, Ore.

The Cubs ranked third in the NL in runs allowed in the first inning (100) behind the Rockies (133) and the Reds (108). Chicago's pitchers had a 5.25 ERA in the first inning (third worst in the NL) and the second-highest batting average against (.288).

Individually, here are the Cubs' starters' ERA in the first inning:

Hendricks 6.82 (33 games)
Darvish 5.63 (eight games)
Hamels 5.25 (12 games)
Chatwood 4.50 (20 games)
Quintana 4.22 (32 games)
Lester 2.53 (32 games)

Do you see Almora having a more consistent spot in next year's lineup? I think he is just great (especially on defense), and I'm really hoping Joe Maddon uses him more next year.
-- Melissa E., Marion, Iowa (but living in Cedar Falls for grad school)

Almora did set career highs in games played, at-bats, runs, hits and strikeouts. But after batting .319 in the first half, he batted .232 in the second half. He's made improvements against right-handed pitchers, but he just needs to be more consistent to get more playing time.

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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