Just four starts deep into his Chicago Cubs career, right-hander Jason Hammel is making a name for himself.
In those four outings, Hammel has allowed just 14 hits in 27 2/3 innings of work – averaging less than 4.5 hits per nine. His 2.60 earned run average is obviously desirable for any big league starting pitcher – especially for one looking to rebuild his stock after several injury-plagued seasons on a one-year contract.
The 31-year-old recently talked with several Cubs beat writers, including Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, about several possibilities – including the chances he gets traded, similar to Scott Feldman in 2013, or even the prospects of signing an extension with the Cubs.
“Contract stuff,” he told Wittenmeyer. “That’s crazy to even bring that up right now. It’s April. It’s still very early.”
While it is admittedly early to talk contract extensions – especially for a guy with a career earned run average of 4.74 – the questions raised in the interview are certainly worth entertaining.
When asked about what he thought about his future in Major League Baseball post-July, Hammel remained adamant that he and his teammates were focused on the task at hand – winning with the Cubs.
“I’m not thinking about that. I just want to win,” Hammel said. “I want to lead by example. I want to win. That’s what we all want to do. We’re learning how to do that right now.”
Hammel has been a part of a Cubs rotation that has been relatively sound through the season’s first month, headlined by right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who despite five quality starts is still searching for his first win of 2014. Samardzija and the Cubs – by all indications – still appear to be a great distance apart on contract talks, and it is widely expected that the club will look to trade the young workhorse in the coming months leading up to the July deadline.
Former Cubs pitcher Matt Garza recently took some parting shots at the organization following his start against Chicago, saying that Samardzija should “pitch his way out of” Chicago and the losing atmosphere there.
“All I can tell him is keep pitching — pitch your way out of it,” Garza told ESPN. “Keep your eyes focused, your eyes straight ahead and just pitch. There’s nothing else you can do.”
Granted, there’s some bad blood between Garza and his former team after he was dealt to Texas in a prospect-laden deal that landed the likes of Mike Olt and C.J. Edwards, among others. That being said, though, the Cubs’ recent trend of flipping any quality arms at the deadline each year has led to dismal second halves where the rotation was too-often filled by Minor League call-ups.
Moving forward, it seems likely that both Samardzija and Hammel will be trade bait for contending clubs seeking another arm. Obviously, the two offer very different packages in terms of repertoire and make-up, but both could be valuable come July. The real question is whether or not both will continue pitching as they have as the season wears on.