Chicago Cubs: Did the Cubs make a mistake with Jason Hammel?

(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Chicago Cubs
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Chicago Cubs: A rare Theo Epstein misfire

After the dust settled and the warm happy feelings had been exchanged, Theo Epstein explained the Cubs plans for the fifth spot in the rotation.

"“Our hope is that by giving a starting opportunity to some younger pitchers under multiple years of club control, we can unearth a starter who will help us not only in 2017 but also in 2018 and beyond.”"

That sounded like a good plan, but that wasn’t exactly what happened. After missing out on Tyson Ross, the Cubs signed free agent Brett Anderson. Inexplicably, the Cubs named Anderson the fifth starter out of spring training instead of Mike Montgomery or Eddie Butler. Both Montgomery and Butler fit Epstein’s goal of a giving an opportunity to a younger pitcher with multiple years of club control. Anderson was an oft-injured veteran with unrealized upside.

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Anderson did not pitch well or for long with the Cubs. He only pitched 22 innings over six starts. During that time he an ERA of 8.18 while giving up 34 hits, 12 walks and only striking out 16. After that Anderson landed on the disabled list and he was eventually released.

Thinking in dollars and cents

Now consider that instead of Anderson that spot in the rotation could have been held down by Jason Hammel for one more year. True Anderson cost less (just $3.5 million). But remember, the Cubs paid Hammel’s $2 million buyout. So instead of 3.5 million for Anderson versus $12 million for Hammel, the decision was really $3.5 million plus $2 million for Hammel’s buyout versus $12 million for keeping Hammel.

No doubt, the right-hander would have cost more to keep than Anderson. Hammel also pitched better in 2017 than Anderson. In 180 1/3 innings over 32 starts Hammel posted a 5.29 ERA while giving up 209 hits, 48 walks and striking out 145 batters.

It felt like the front office thought they wanted to open up an opportunity for a young, unproven starting pitcher to seize the job. But when it came time to pull the trigger on that decision the front office stuttered. The seemed to  feel uncomfortable with such uncertainty in the rotation to at least start the season. If a veteran starting pitcher was going to be the direction they were going to go with the last spot in the rotation, the Cubs would have been better off with Hammel instead of Anderson.