HOUSTON -- Pitching has been the focus of the major rebuilding program that the Rangers have launched, and that continued on Thursday with the completion of the trade that sent left-hander Cole Hamels to the Cubs.
In return for a 13-year veteran and four-time All-Star, Texas received right-handed pitchers Eddie Butler and Rollie Lacy, and a player to be named later. The Rangers will pick in the next few weeks from a predetermined list from the Cubs' farm system for the third player in the deal.
"We'll add another interesting prospect to our system," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "Obviously you don't like being on these sides of the deal. You'd rather be in it and looking to get the quality big league guys that help us win now. That's the reality of where we are right now."
Hamels is 1-3 with a 10.23 ERA in his past five starts, but his struggles did not deter the Cubs. Hamels is 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA in 10 starts on the road, and there is also the theory that the veteran left-hander could be rejuvenated with a trade to a legitimate contender.
"We had over the course of a month, I believe there were six teams that inquired and there were four teams in earnest that we were talking to as late as yesterday," Daniels said. "It was a situation where we thought the time was right, we thought the deal made sense. We were comfortable.
"The reality is teams think he's better than he's pitched recently, we certainly know that. I don't think short term [matters] as long as the guy is healthy, which he is, and the stuff is good, which it is."
Hamels said his time with the Rangers was a wild ride, but ultimately a successful and positive experience.
"I think being able to come over and get traded in 2015, that was some of the best memories I've ever had," Hamels said. "It's been a tremendous experience to come here to this organization. This is going to be an exciting time for Texas in the next couple years with the new stadium. There's a lot of young guys on this team now, and the talent pool that they have down in the Minor Leagues that are going to make a tremendous impact. I know it's going to be exciting to be able to kind of see them put it together, because this is such a great organization to be a part of."
Butler will join the Rangers immediately and be used as a reliever with a chance to switch to the rotation in the future. He has spent all or parts of the past five seasons in the big leagues, the first three with the Rockies and the past two with the Cubs. Butler was the 46th overall pick by the Rockies in 2012 and pitched well in their farm system. But like many pitchers, he struggled in Colorado and was 6-16 with a 6.50 ERA in 28 starts and eight relief appearances from 2014-16. The Rockies traded him to the Cubs on Feb. 1, 2017.
Butler was 4-3 with a 3.95 ERA in 11 starts and two relief appearances for the Cubs last year and made the team this season out of Spring Training. But he missed over two months with a strained groin muscle and has pitched in just eight games as a reliever, posting a 4.08 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP.
"He's a guy we always viewed as a change-of-scenery candidate in Colorado," Daniels said. "We tried to acquire him at the time the Cubs did, and he has bounced back with them. He has made some adjustments in a different environment. He had a groin injury earlier but has bounced back."
Lacy was an 11th-round pick by the Cubs out of Creighton University last year and went 4-1 with a 2.02 ERA in 10 starts and six relief appearances at Class A South Bend in the Midwest League. He struck out 84 in 71 1/3 innings, earning a promotion to Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League. He is 1-1 with a 5.79 ERA in two starts for the Pelicans. He has been assigned to Class A Down East.
"Rollie is a guy we liked in the Draft last year," Daniels said. "[He] really profiles as a true starting pitcher. Three pitches for strikes. Gets swing and miss on all three despite not having top-end velocity. He has an average fastball but has plus sink and he really commands it."
This is the fourth trade Texas has made since Spring Training, and the return each time has involved a Class A right-handed pitcher. The Rangers acquired right-hander Tyler Thomas from the Cubs for Jesse Chavez, right-hander Jason Bahr from the Giants and right-hander Emmanuel Clase from the Giants for catcher Brett Nicholas.
"We are leaning toward the pitching side in restocking," Daniels said. "We think we have a number of talented arms in the lower levels that are going to circulate up through the system. We are going to be patient with these guys. We are not looking for short-term gain. This is a long-term process, trying to grow this group, and we're going to try and add to it."
The Rangers acquired Hamels and reliever Jake Diekman from the Cubs on July 31, 2015, for Minor League pitchers Jake Thompson, Jerad Eickhoff and Alec Asher, catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams, and veteran pitcher Matt Harrison.
Hamels was 38-21 with a 3.90 ERA in 88 starts with the Rangers. He helped them win two division titles, but Texas was unable to make it past Toronto in the American League Division Series in either 2015 or '16. The Rangers dropped to 78-84 last year and are 42-62 and in last place in the AL West.
"We won two division titles that we don't win without him," Daniels said. "Pitched extremely well for us. He has been a huge asset on the field and off the field. Really no regrets, we would do that deal again. In the grand scheme of things, very comfortable with the price we paid."