Chicago Cubs: Jason Hammel offers his free agency thoughts

Feb 20, 2017; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Jason Hammel (39)holds an emoji for a photo during spring training photo day at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 20, 2017; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Jason Hammel (39)holds an emoji for a photo during spring training photo day at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports /

Former Chicago Cubs hurler Jason Hammel talked about what the learned as a free agent this winter, as well as from the team’s decision to cut ties.

Despite a need in their starting rotation, the Chicago Cubs opted to move on from right-hander Jason Hammel following the postseason.

The Cubs’ front office pitched the decision as a chance to let Hammel earn better money on the open market; others believe it was due to bad blood between the right-hander and manager Joe Maddon.

So, the Cubs moved on – signing Brett Anderson to compete with Mike Montgomery for the final spot in the starting rotation. Hammel, meanwhile sat, unwanted, on the open market for months before signing a two-year, $16 million deal with the Kansas City Royals.

"“I’ve learned free agency pretty much sucks if you’re not one of the top two at every position,” Hammel told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s really tough, and the game is definitely changing in the way teams handle not necessarily aging guys, but the veteran guys. They’re going young. That’s where you see all these early deals you think you would pay out for what they’re worth."

Last season, Hammel was left off the postseason roster in the NLDS, NLCS and World Series. He also skipped his last start of the regular season, which lent credence to whispers he had arm issues.

"“It was a big miss in that situation. We were running out of time. It’s almost like the damage already was done. I was able to end up with a very good team on my side, and I actually feel thankful I could get that at that point.”"

Chicago Cubs
Chicago Cubs /

Chicago Cubs

Had Kansas City ace Yordano Ventura not tragically passed away, it’s hard to imagine Hammel getting a deal with the Royals.

That being said, he wound up heading to a team hoping to make one last run at a World Series title before its core breaks up this offseason.

The veteran hurler won a career-best 15 games last season with the Cubs. But, once again, he faded badly down the stretch.

Also, his ERA skyrocketed from an impressive 2.42 at Wrigley Field to 5.33 on the road. His poor last month did him no favors.

A falling out on his way out?

In the second half, Maddon had Hammel on an increasingly short leash. After August 21, he lasted six or more innings in just two of his final six outings. Following his August 27 start against Los Angeles, he called for a closed-door meeting with his manager.

"“I didn’t even pitch today in my mind. I barely threw 40 pitches. It was a side day for me pretty much.”"

Maddon responded, admitting he knew Hammel wasn’t happy with the decision,.

"“And that’s cool. I’m not going to make an excuse why I did what I did. It has nothing to do with lack of confidence or any of these other issues. It was the right thing do to today, based on what I saw, what their lineup looked like, and Rob Z’s availability.”"

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Things never seemed to get better between the two. It would be hard to imagine this rift didn’t play into the Cubs offering a $2 million buyout rather than pick up his $10 option for 2017. But, according to Hammel, it wasn’t a motivating factor in the decision.

Heading into his mid-30s, the right-hander is still looking to start. Kansas City was willing to provide such an opportunity; Chicago, meanwhile, was not.

"“I love how people were saying it was a choice, because it really wasn’t,” Hammel said. “It was either basically pitch out of the bullpen or not have a job. Because of the way the rotation was planning out, they said they had to get younger. And then you bring in Montgomery, who was a starter all through the minors. My take was they were probably trying to see what they had in Mike.  I wanted to stay a Cub. But at this stage of my career, I’m not ready to pitch out of the bullpen.”"