Due to the Chicago Cubs declining the $10 million Jason Hammel had for the 2017 season, he becomes a free agent, while their 5-man rotation for next season becomes clear: Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey and Mike Montgomery.
The Cubs gave Hammel the decision: Come back for one more season or hit free agency while getting bought out for $2 million. It was an easy decision for Hammel, who made $18 million in 2014 and 2015 combined after his return to the Cubs. The 34-year old has been terrific for the last three years, making 90 starts. Through 513.2 innings, he posted a 3.68 ERA and a 1.162 WHIP, striking out 3.46 batters per nine innings. The Cubs didn’t use Hammel in their World Series playoff run, which was a sign his time in Chicago is coming to an end.
Hammel, we repeat, chose to leave. He immediately becomes one of the best pitchers in this free agency market, and while getting something longer than 3 years is difficult, he’ll be making more money per season than he would have with the Cubs, which makes leaving quite sensible. Like the outfield market, the 2017 starting pitching class isn’t filled with elite talent, putting Hammel in a good position to make more money than ever before.
While this move hurts the Cubs depth at the rotation, it gives the 27-year old Montogomery the opening he was looking for to move up from the bullpen into the rotation. He came over from the Seattle Mariners during the season via trade, making 5 starts and 17 appearances overall through 38.1 innings. He posted a 2.82 ERA for the Cubs, although he struggled to keep his K/BB ratio high, walking nearly five batters per nine innings. He did a good job in the World Series with a 1.93 ERA through five games and 4.2 innings, erasing the bad impression he left in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Besides Montgomery, there aren’t any surprises in the planned 1-2-3-4 rotation: Arrieta, who completely redeemed himself in the World Series with two strong performances (2.38 ERA through 11.1 innings); Hendricks, the ERA leader in the National League with 2.13 last season and soon to be the #1 pitcher for the Cubs, unless something goes wrong; Lester, who helped carry the Cubs through the Dodgers and Giants until he slipped up a bit in the World Series, a small stain on an otherwise fantastic season; and Lackey, who turned 38 in October, but is still going strong, pitching through 188 inning in 2016, and has no plan of taking a reduced role in the near future.