The Chicago Cubs have reeled in their first major free-agent pitcher of the winter. It's just not the one most expected.
The Cubs and righty Jason Hammel agreed to a two-year, $18 million contract on Monday, completing a deal that's been rumored in recent days. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported the two sides were nearing an agreement Sunday, and they worked quickly to finalize terms once Hammel passed his physical.
Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reported the terms of the agreement:
Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com weighed in on Hammel's return to Chicago:
If this refrain sounds familiar that's because it is. Hammel, 32, signed a one-year deal in Chicago last offseason for $6 million, pitching brilliantly before being shipped to the Oakland Athletics in July. While his numbers dipped significantly in Oakland, Hammel finished 10-11 with a 3.47 ERA and 1.12 WHIP for the season overall.
“He kind of flies under the radar,” catcher John Baker told Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago. “(But) comparing him to some of the frontline guys I’ve caught in the past, like Josh Johnson, he’s a guy that when you go out to the field, regardless of who you’re playing against, you feel like he’s going to give you a chance to win the game.”
The Cubs will hope Hammel's return to the National League brings him back to near-All-Star form. Whereas he was acquired last winter as a low-cost trade chip, he is now getting in on the ground floor of a possible franchise renaissance.
Equipped with a bigger budget and plans to accelerate their rebuilding process, the Cubs have been aggressive since the regular season ended. They hired manager Joe Maddon away from the Tampa Bay Rays and have been linked consistently to top free agent Jon Lester. Heyman also reported Sunday that the Cubs were making a "push" for the former longtime Red Sox ace and may be in the clubhouse lead.
Hammel, Lester and Jake Arrieta would theoretically provide a strong top of the rotation. Chicago already boasts perhaps the deepest stable of young, high-upside hitters in baseball. Strengthening the staff will go a long way toward getting the team out of the NL Central basement and back to competing with the Cardinals and Pirates.
Of course, Lester has not yet signed. Hammel is a solid building block and should slot into the middle of the rotation. But Theo Epstein and co. are far from finished—or at least they hope they are.
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