The Rundown: Another Twist in Tale of Jason Hammel’s Departure, Main Starters’ Spring Debuts Set

Remember the initial story about how the Cubs declined Jason Hammel‘s 2017 option as a favor, allowing a man who would have been at the back end of their rotation to enter a weak starting pitching market? Then there was the report that it wasn’t as much about the team letting Hammel walk as it was him being upset with Joe Maddon over quick hooks and not being a part of the playoff roster (you could also say, “being apart from the roster”).

While there’s still plenty of veracity to the first part of the story, the new Royal debunked the idea that his departure from Chicago had anything to do with a conflict with his manager.

“I love how people are saying it was a choice,” Hammel said Wednesday, when his new team faced his old one in Surprise. “It really wasn’t. It was either basically pitch out of the bullpen or not have a job. I wanted to stay a Cub. But at this stage of my career, I’m not ready to pitch out of the bullpen.”

And that makes all the sense in the world, unlike the idea that a guy would walk away from $10-12 million just because he’s got a frosty relationship with his skipper. I mean, sure, you do that when you’re guaranteed more money in free agency. But as we saw this winter, several factors played into what ended up as a curiously slow market for the righty.

First, there was the tender elbow that limited Hammel toward the end of the regular season and may have played a role in playoff personnel decisions. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe he’d have been part of the postseason rosters even at full strength, but that’s irrelevant now. What is relevant, or was prior to him signing with the Royals, is that concerns over the elbow kept several potential suitors at arm’s length.

Hammel said Wednesday that he believes it was the elbow alone, not being pulled early from games or becoming an afterthought in the Cubs’ rotation, that suppressed demand this winter. That’s probably what precipitated his change in representation right in the middle of free agency as well. Shortly after leaving Octagon for ACES, Hammel got a new physical and the perception of him seemed to trend sharply upward.

Now he’s got a two-year deal and a spot in the rotation with a contending team. That surely makes it a little easier to look back on his time in Chicago even more favorably that he might have been able to even a month ago. Not that there’s likely to be yet another reunion with the Cubs, but Hammel didn’t seem closed off to the idea.

“I don’t hold grudges and I’m certainly not going to burn a bridge,” he said of his future.

So what we’re left with is that the whole truth of the matter, as is so often the case, probably rests partially submerged just below all the known facts. The Cubs offered to pick up Hammel’s option but made him aware of their plans for him, which would have included playing the “hybrid” starter role currently occupied by Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery. When Hammel said he wasn’t comfortable with not starting full-time, the team declined his option.

I suppose we could factor in the whole Maddon thing, but that seems to have had only ancillary influence at best. While Hammel may not have been elated by his past usage, it’s his future usage that spurred his “decision” to leave Chicago. So, basically, exactly what I wrote in the wake of the report that the relationship with his manager was at the crux of the matter. I guess blind squirrels really do find nuts every now and again.

Once more, probably for the last time here, we wish Hammel the best with his new team and lament that his travails will no longer drive clicks to our site.

Starters start starting

As if exhibition games didn’t already feel exhibitiony enough, the Cubs have stepped the practice-game feel up a notch by holding their primary starters back. The schedule for those core four pitchers had been up in the air until Wednesday, when Joe Maddon finally put speculation to rest.

Here’s a look at how they’ll line up:

For those of you who are viewing this from a work connection that blocks social media, sorry about the use of an image to display the rotation. That’s what you get for not internetting from your phone like a normal person. Okay, fine, I’ll tell you: Kyle Hendricks goes Saturday, followed by Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and the meanest varmint this side of…well, wherever there are lots of o’nry critters.

More news and notes

  • If you’re heading to Mesa this spring, make sure to check out our Insider’s Guide
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