In a bit of a surprising move, today the Chicago Cubs announced that they have declined their 2017 option on pitcher Jason Hammel. The option was believed to be worth $12 million, but the Cubs will instead pay a $2 million buyout. Given the dearth of free agent pitching and lack of depth in the upper levels of the organization, the decline is likely a reflection of the Cubs’ lack of optimism for the 34-year-old righty’s immediate future. (And also possibly a vote of confidence in guys like Mike Montgomery and Rob Zastryzny.)
The decision to decline is additionally a surprise because the Cubs arguably could have retained Hammel, and shopped him in the weak market. But more on that in the statement below.
The Cubs took the unusual additional step of announcing and explaining the decision via a statement from baseball president Theo Epstein:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) November 6, 2016
Laying it all out like that is greatly appreciated. We will see how the Cubs proceed going forward, as they could have used Hammel as depth even as they sought to “unearth a starter who will help [them] not only in 2017 but also 2018 and beyond.”
Given Hammel’s plausible value on the trade market, a portion of this really could be about the Cubs wanting to give Hammel the opportunity to choose his next destination, and possibly land a little more guaranteed money in the process. So, then, from a pure baseball perspective, the move leaves me a little anxious about the pitching depth for 2017, but from a human perspective, it seems like a solid move. (And even if including that stuff in the statement was window dressing so as not to appear to trash Hammel on his way into free agency, that, too, is a solid human move. I tend to think it was probably both.)
Further, the decision opens up an additional $10 million for the Cubs to use this offseason as they look elsewhere for starting depth and to bolster the bullpen. When March rolls around, it’s entirely possible that the pitching depth question will be answered very well.
I think it’s safe to say, though, that the Cubs will once again heavily be exploring the cost-controlled starter trade market, at a minimum. Let’s not forget: after next season, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are both free agents.
The official deadline to make a decision on this option was tomorrow – for more on the dates and deadlines this offseason, see the offseason road map here.