You never know when the rumor might break at the Winter Meetings, and that includes the overnight period.
Jon Heyman reports that Jason Hammel is close to a deal with the Chicago Cubs, according to sources. In a miniature version of the Jon Lester-Boston saga(in terms of the prior connection), Hammel has always indicated that he would be willing to be the rare free agent who would return to the team that traded him midseason. And, for their part, the Cubs were always very happy with Hammel, and interested in re-upping if the fit was right.
In that way, a reunion would not be a surprise. Among the second tier options, Hammel is as good as any other out there in my view, depending on the contract.
And speaking of that contract, that’s tied to the only part in this that would be a surprise. With Jon Lester still unsigned and the top tier pitching market at a relative standstill, it didn’t seem like the second tier market was going to shake out until after the top tier had been loosed up a bit. I’d tentatively expected Lester to sign, and then a handful of second tier arms to be inked in the following days/weeks. If Hammel goes first, then it’s fair to conclude a couple things: (1) Hammel was the Cubs’ clear preference in the second tier market, and (2) the Cubs feel like they can get a good deal by jumping on Hammel now, rather than waiting until the end of the offseason to see if a value slips through.
As for Lester, I don’t think I’d read too much into this impacting anything with him. The Cubs have said all along that they would ideally add an impact starter and a second, quality starter this offseason. Wanting Hammel, then, is still completely consistent with getting Lester. That said, would knowing that they were about to miss on Lester make the Cubs even more urgent in their efforts to nail down their preferred second tier target? Probably. But don’t go too far with that.
Let’s see if the Cubs do wind up finalizing a deal with Hammel this week. He’s been expected to seek – and ultimately receive – a three-year deal in the $10 million per year range.
UPDATE: Patrick Mooney is confirming Heyman’s report, saying that the two sides made progress last night. Mooney also says the terms of the deal aren’t yet available, but the fact that we’re event talking like that suggests this is going to happen. Maybe Hammel and Lester became super-duper great buddies in their short time together in Oakland …