TODAY: Chicago allowed Hammel to decide whether he’d be back for one more year or test the market, according to ESPNChicago.com’s Jesse Rogers. That was no doubt an easy call for him, at least financially.
YESTERDAY: The Cubs have declined right-hander Jason Hammel’s $12MM option for 2017 in favor of a $2MM buyout, according to a team announcement. Hammel is now a free agent.
The World Series champions’ decision to cut the reasonably priced Hammel comes as a surprise, as he at least looked like a trade candidate prior to Sunday. However, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein announced that the team had no plans to pick up Hammel’s option just to shop him.
“The intent was never to exercise the option and then trade Jason, so we will not consider that path,” said Epstein. “Instead, Jason will have the opportunity to enter free agency coming off an outstanding season and the ability to choose his next club.”
Hammel, 34, contributed 166 2/3 innings of 3.83 ERA pitching to go with a 7.78 K/9, 2.86 BB/9 and 42.1 percent ground-ball rate in 2016. He experienced elbow tightness late in the regular season, though, and the club subsequently left him off its roster during playoff victories over the Giants, Dodgers and Indians.
This ends Hammel’s second stint with the Cubs, who signed him to a one-year contract entering the 2014 season and then sent him and Jeff Samardzija to Oakland in a July deal that brought shortstop Addison Russell to Chicago. Hammel subsequently returned to the Windy City in free agency the next winter, ultimately collecting $20MM from the team on what would have been a three-year, $30MM pact had the Cubs exercised his option.
For Hammel’s earning power, the Cubs’ move to buy him out comes at a fortuitous time. Given the weakness of this winter’s free agent class, he’ll return to the open market as one of the top starters available. Going back to 2014, Hammel has logged a 3.68 ERA, 8.3 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and 40 percent grounder mark over 513 2/3 innings.
Barring offseason acquisitions, the Cubs’ removal of Hammel from their roster will leave them with Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey and Mike Montgomery as their starting five entering 2017. That quintet should form one of the majors’ premier rotations next season if healthy, though the Cubs’ depth took an obvious hit with Hammel’s exit.