It absolutely never fails. If the Chicago Cubs of the last five years have a good player who could be traded midseason, the trade rumors will, at one point or another, be punctuated by a question: if the Cubs do trade Player X, could they turn around and re-sign him after the season as a free agent? I specifically remember having this chat about Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, Ryan Dempster, Aramis Ramirez (who was not ultimately traded), Greg Maddux, Ted Lilly, and others. We’ve already touched on it with respect to Jeff Samardzija, and he’s not even a free agent until after next season.
I don’t blame anyone for asking the question. At a very surface level, it always makes sense: the guy is good, he’s got familiarity with the team and city, the Cubs could use the guy next year as they maybe turn the corner, and he’s a free agent, so any team can get him. With just about any impending free agent the Cubs have traded in recent memory, you can craft a convincing argument why this is a guy who could be brought back.
And then he isn’t.
Whatever the reason, players traded midseason simply do not wind up re-signing with the team that traded them away in the first place. Sure, there are very remote exceptions, but, for the most part, this is a baseball truism, and the phenomenon is not limited to the Cubs.
But, as I said, I understand the question each time, and I don’t blame anyone for wondering. Player X in the latest installment is Jason Hammel, proud owner of a nice bum, and an even nicer set of performances this year. The 31-year-old righty has always had big talent, but seems to be putting it together better than ever before this year, and I’ll admit, he’d sure look nice in the Cubs’ rotation over the next few years.
The rub there, of course, is the predicate for everything written above: Hammel is on a one-year deal, is expected to be traded in the next month, and then figures to cash in handsomely in free agency after a great season. Would the Cubs really try to bring him back? Would he really come back?
Normally this is where the discussion ends. It’s a nice thing to think about, it makes sense at a surface level, and it just doesn’t happen.
But check out this interesting statement that Hammel made to Jesse Rogers about all of this.
“I would assume they are pretty happy with my body of work so far and if a trade happens it happens,” Hammel told Rogers, writing for ESPN. “But I guarantee, say I was to go to another team, I love it here. I guarantee you they wouldn’t be opposed to bringing me back next year.” (Read Rogers’ piece for more on Hammel’s future and the Cubs’ plans going forward.)
I gotta say, that’s the first time I’ve seen a player say those three things so bluntly: (1) If I’m traded, (2) I would totally come back, and (3) they would totally be into bringing me back.
Usually, you get a benign mix of “I’m happy here, and we’ll see what happens.” The player leaves open the possibility, but comes far short of affirmatively suggesting it’s a realistic outcome. Heck, most guys don’t even like to discuss the possibility of a trade candidly at all, and definitely don’t like to talk about their free agency plans months before reaching free agency.
This statement by Hammel, on the other hand, sounds much more certain. More specific. It reads like someone who has actually had this kind of conversation with the front office. (To be clear, I’m not saying those conversations have been had – it’s possible, but I actually tend to doubt they would have discussed this kind of thing in-season. Instead, I’m saying only that it’s interesting to see a player saying things in this way.)
Odds remain low that Hammel is traded and then subsequently re-signed in free agency, if for no other reason than he’ll be an attractive free agent to many, many teams with which the Cubs would be competing for his services. But it’s nice to hear a player, new to Chicago, offering such a strong implicit compliment of his time here.
Outside of that, we’ll see what happens in the offseason. In the interim, we wait to see if Hammel is actually traded in the coming weeks, as we expect that he will be. From there, if you choose to dream on him possibly returning in the offseason, it sounds slightly less impossible than with players in the past.