The Cubs won the World Series just last week, but they are now already shifting into offseason mode, which means finding ways to improve a 103-win World Series champion. Evidently fifth starter Jason Hammel is not part of those plans, because the Cubs announced Sunday that they were declining his $12 million club option.
There is a $2 million buyout for Hammel, a decent parting gift.
"First, I want to thank Jason for all of his contributions in his almost three seasons as a Cub. He was an effective, reliable starter the entire time he was a Cub, and this year he was an integral part of one of the best rotations in club history" club president Theo Epstein said in a statement. "We would not have been in a position to win the World Series without Jason's terrific performance during the regular season. Jason and his family have been outstanding members of our organization and our community, and we are proud of their time with and impact on the Cubs."
"While Jason is healthy and primed to have another effective season in 2017, we have decided to consider other internal and external options for our starting rotation next year. Our hope is that by giving a starting opportunity to some younger pitchers under multiple years of club control, we can unearth a starter who will help us not only in 2017 but also in 2018 and beyond."
"When we agreed with Jason on this two-year contract back at the 2014 winter meetings, the option was included with the intent that it would be exercised if Jason was going to be a Cub in 2017. The intent was never to exercise the option and then trade Jason, so we will not consider that path. Instead, Jason will have the opportunity to enter free agency coming off an outstanding season and the ability to choose his next club. Meanwhile, the organization gains some flexibility and the opportunity to use a rotation spot to develop a younger, long-term starting pitcher."
So Epstein basically just stated the obvious there, eh? After thanking Hammel, he goes straight into truth-telling mode that the Cubs would rather trade for someone under team control (Chris Archer, Sonny Gray, Jake Odorizzi et al fit the mold -- and I discussed how they can trade a few days ago) or develop from within the organization.
On the latter front, the Cubs still have a very good five-man rotation if they roll Mike Montgomery into it. He would follow Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. There aren't really any attractive pitching prospects ready to join the rotation for a win-now team, though, so expect a trade this offseason.
As for Hammel, he was 15-10 with a 3.83 ERA (105 ERA+), 1.21 WHIP and 144 strikeouts in 166 2/3 innings. In 78 career starts for the Cubs, he was 33-22 with a 3.59 ERA (108 ERA+). So he's good, but not great. He's 34 years old and probably has a few good years left, too.
The good news for Hammel is the Cubs might have done him a favor. The starting pitching pool in free agency is pretty barren this offseason (the top starters are names like Rich Hill, Andrew Cashner, Jeremy Hellickson and I guess we can now throw Hammel in there).
So maybe now Hammel gets a multiyear deal with more than $30 million while the Cubs pull off a deal for a younger and more controlled starter. Everybody wins.