Jason Hammel could return to the Chicago Cubs this winter

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The headlines surrounding the Chicago Cubs and their offseason plans will likely include the names of Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields more often than not. That being said, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer need to flesh out a starting rotation that saw several key contributors take a step backwards in 2014.

With Edwin Jackson seemingly on the brink of demise – at least as far as the Cubs are concerned – and southpaw Travis Wood limping through the season’s final month to finish the year with a 5.03 ERA, the team relied heavily on two unproven arms in Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks. Arrieta emerged as the ace of the staff following the trade of Hammel and right-hander Jeff Samardzija in early July, while Hendricks was dominant in his first big league season, posting a 2.46 ERA with the big league club.

Heading into 2015, barring any major additions to the staff, Chicago lacks enough solid pieces to be a legitimate contender. After Arrieta and Hendricks, the likes of Wood and a pair of reclamation projects – former Boston Red Sox southpaw Felix Doubront and Miami Marlins prospect Jacob Turner – round out the rotation. In a free agent market with multiple quality middle-of-the-rotation options available, it’s not far-fetched to think that one of the team’s most consistent starters early in 2014 – Jason Hammel – could return to the Friendly Confines in 2015.

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The 32-year-old right-hander joined the Cubs last year on a one-year, $6 million deal coming on the heels of a disappointing campaign with the Baltimore Orioles in which he pitched to the tune of a 4.97 ERA across 23 starts and a trio of relief appearances. Given the fact his earned run average improved by 1 1/2 runs (fell from 4.97 to 3.47 from ’13 to ’14), it’s not hard to imagine Hammel earning a multi-year deal with a higher salary, as well – perhaps in the ballpark of three years and somewhere in the neighborhood of $25-30 million.

When asked about a potential return to the Cubs earlier this year, the veteran told Bruce Levine that he appreciated the organization’s approach to things in 2014.

"“The Cubs people were very transparent about the deal,” he said. “It was a great experience pitching there and yes, I would certainly consider going back if everything worked out.”"

With Chicago, under the tutelage of pitching coach Chris Bosio, Hammel pitched the best ball of his career, posting a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts for the Cubs – with a sparkling 4.52 SO/BB ratio to compliment his work on the hill. Given his success with Bosio and the Cubs moving into contention, it’s not hard to see the righty donning Cubbie blue again in 2015.