The Real Reason Jason Hammel Left Chicago?

The story we’ve been told from the start is that the Cubs did Jason Hammel a favor by not picking up his option for 2017, thereby allowing him to seek a bigger deal in free agency. But was that really the case? According a recent report from ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, there may have been a tad more acrimony involved in the parting of ways.

It became obvious — and at times public – that Hammel and his manager didn’t see eye to eye. Maddon pulled the right-hander from several games earlier than the pitcher would have liked. Hammel didn’t make any of the postseason rosters. So after the World Series, the Cubs gave him the choice. He chose to leave, and sources close to the situation say that choice was as much about Maddon as anything else. That can’t come as a big surprise to those who have followed the drama for two seasons. Hammel simply felt his manager lost faith in him, and at that point it was time to go.

It was obvious that the pitcher and skipper were frequently traversing a bridge over troubled water, no more so than when Hammel was pulled from an August start after only 39 pitches. Then there was Hammel’s absence from the august company of the Cubs’ playoff rosters, which may or may not have been due to a tender elbow. And those are just two of the more recent incidents over the course of a two-year return engagement marked by brief outings and short tempers.

So are we cool with the idea that a tenuous relationship with Joe Maddon was the driving force behind Hammel’s departure?

While it makes sense when you view it from a certain angle, some of the logic washes out when you hold it up to the light. Were this a player option, or even a mutual one, that Hammel was turning down, I’d be more willing to buy the idea Rogers is putting forth. As it is, Hammel lost the mutuality of his option when he fell short of the innings threshold required to trigger it.

That means the Cubs had full control over whether or not Hammel would remain in Chicago for 2017. I have no doubt that they would have exercised that option in a heartbeat had they felt he made the team appreciably better, particularly when you consider that his $10 million salary is a relative bargain by today’s standards. Though the front office was certainly aware of any tension, these guys are all professionals and could have easily worked through it.

I don’t have any sources and I’ve not talked to anyone involved in conversations between the two sides, but I’m guessing the Cubs were upfront with Hammel about their plans for this season. Those plans would have included a relatively fluid back end of the rotation that meant operating with four main starters and a fifth spot that might be in flux. As such, Hammel would not have been guaranteed a consistent role.

So while I can totally buy the idea that Hammel was not a big fan of the way Maddon was treating him, I think it far more likely that he wasn’t willing to re-up for an indefinite role. At the risk of being irresponsibly speculative and reading too much into the situation, the info from Rogers’ sources seems to be as much about the new Royal saving face as anything else.

I mean, he wouldn’t want to come out and be like, “Yeah, the Cubs said I wasn’t guaranteed a starting spot and I didn’t feel comfortable with that.”

When you get down to it, though, that’s exactly what happened. The Cubs were perfectly willing to let Hammel walk and the goodwill part of that was not picking up his option and allowing him to pick his destination. Remember, there was a lot of talk that they would exercise the option and then flip him as a great value in a weak pitching market. But absent a great relationship with his manager and a guarantee that he’d be part of the rotation, it was best for everyone involved that Hammel decided to walk away.

So here’s to a successful tenure in Kansas City and to hoping that Ned Yost doesn’t make any trips to the mound before the conclusion of the 2nd inning.

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