Cubs cut Jason Hammel loose and begin working on team that will defend World Series title

Cubs cut Jason Hammel loose and begin working on team that will defend World Series title

Jason Hammel – a 15-game winner who couldn’t make a playoff roster on this loaded World Series team – will now become one of the best starting pitchers on the open market after the Cubs declined their $12 million option for next season.

Hammel will receive a $2 million buyout as the Cubs bet on lefty Mike Montgomery and their ability to find more creative pitching solutions. After a playoff run into early November, Theo Epstein’s front office is now focusing on 2017.

Even as fans lined up outside Wrigleyville Sports on Sunday morning to buy championship gear and wrote messages in chalk on Wrigley Field’s bricks walls facing Sheffield and Waveland (“We Did Not Suck 2016”).

Just before his “Saturday Night Live” appearance with Anthony Rizzo, David Ross and Bill Murray, the Major League Baseball Players Association sent out a press release adding Dexter Fowler to the list of free agents who are about to hit the open market. By Monday afternoon, the Cubs will have formally made Fowler the $17.2 million qualifying offer, the “he gone” ending for the “you go, we go” leadoff guy.

Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell and Javier Baez already went to Disney World. Even Epstein will have to slow down his bender with the general manager meetings taking place this week in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“We would not have been in a position to win the World Series without Jason’s terrific performance during the regular season,” Epstein said in a statement the team released Sunday. “While Jason is healthy and primed to have another effective season in 2017, we have decided to consider other internal and external options for our starting rotation next year.

“Our hope is that by giving a starting opportunity to some younger pitchers under multiple years of club control, we can unearth a starter who will help us not only in 2017 but also in 2018 and beyond.”

[SHOP: Buy your Cubs World Series champions gear here]

If not Montgomery, who saved that Game 7 World Series win over the Cleveland Indians, the Cubs could take a longer look at Rob Zastryzny and hope he lives up to the left-handed Kyle Hendricks comparison one National League scout made this year. Or reinvest Hammel’s money elsewhere and lean on the pitching infrastructure that helped Hendricks win the ERA title and transform Jake Arrieta into a Cy Young Award winner.

Hammel more than lived up to his end of the bargain as a Cub (33-22, 3.59 ERA, 1.143 WHIP). He first delivered as a sign-and-flip guy packaged with Jeff Samardzija in the 2014 Fourth of July blockbuster trade that yielded a future All-Star shortstop (Russell) from the Oakland A’s.

Hammel took a discount to return and play where he felt he would be most successful. And for $20 million across the last two years, he made 61 starts and accounted for more than 335 innings, performing at an All-Star level in the first half of each season.

All those attributes could have made Hammel an attractive trade chip.

“When we agreed with Jason on this two-year contract back at the 2014 winter meetings,” Epstein said, “the option was included with the intent that it would be exercised if Jason was going to be a Cub in 2017. The intent was never to exercise the option and then trade Jason, so we will not consider that path.

“Instead, Jason will have the opportunity to enter free agency coming off an outstanding season and the ability to choose his next club. Meanwhile, the organization gains some flexibility and the opportunity to use a rotation spot to develop a younger, long-term starting pitcher.

“We would certainly be open to Jason rejoining the organization in the future. But even if that never happens, we will always consider him a Cub and be thankful for his role in delivering a World Series championship to the people of Chicago.”

There is no more “Wait Until Next Year” after the franchise won its first World Series in 108 years. It is time for Epstein’s group to finish building the team that will defend that title. 

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 record: 104-58, 1st place in NL West

Offseason additions: Matt Kemp, Scott Alexander, Brian Schlitter (former Cub still in the league), Pat Venditte (switch-pitcher), Hamlet Marte (only included because his name is "Hamlet")

Offseason departures: Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Andre Ethier, Franklin Gutierrez, Scott Van Slyke, Brandon McCarthy, Luis Avilan, Scott Kazmir

X-factor: Chris Taylor/Alex Wood

Cheating a bit here and going with two guys.

Wood has been a very good and very underrated pitcher for his entire career, but he also has struggled to stay healthy. He made just 27 appearances (25 starts) last season and has pitched more than 172 innings in a season just once (2015).

Wood has a career 3.20 ERA and led the league in winning percentage last season after going 16-3. We all know Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet (again, when healthy), but if Wood can take the ball every fifth day, it takes so much pressure off Kershaw and makes the Dodgers that much more formidable.

Taylor came from out of absolutely nowhere last year to turn in a heck of a season - .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 HR, 72 RBI, 85 R, 17 SB - and sat atop the Dodgers order as they marched all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. 

The power was a huge surprise, but he's always had speed, hit for a high average and drawn walks, so if the power plays again, he's a huge weapon, especially with Justin Turner down with a wrist injury now. And the power actually looks legit after a swing and philosophy change.

Projected lineup

1. Chris Taylor - CF
2. Corey Seager - SS
3. Cody Bellinger - 1B
4. Yasiel Puig - RF
5. Yasmani Grandal - C
6. Joc Pederson - LF
7. Logan Forsythe - 3B
8. Chase Utley - 2B

Projected rotation

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Alex Wood
3. Kenta Maeda
4. Rich Hill
5. Hyun-jin Ryu


Turner's broken wrist is a huge blow to the Dodgers before the season has even begun, especially when he's suddenly like the best right-handed hitter on the planet not named Mike Trout or Kris Bryant. 

Turner was always a solid utility player for the Mets but not much of a hitter (.696 OPS in 301 games with the Mets). In L.A., however, Turner has an .881 OPS in four years, including an incredible .945 OPS in 2017.

He's the anchor of their lineup and any time he misses is a big loss. But this Dodgers team is so talented around him that they'll be fine getting into the playoffs. Turner was bound to miss time anyways - he's played in more than 130 games in a season just once in his career.

The only thing that could slow this team down would be more injuries, especially if Kershaw's balky back rears its ugly head again. 

This may be the most talented roster in the National League (once Turner returns), so even in an NL West where four teams may be competing for the division title, the Dodgers should take the cake once again.

But will they have enough left in the tank to get past the Cubs or Nationals to represent the NL in the World Series once again?

Prediction: 1st in NL West

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres

Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season


Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season

MLB will once again commemorate several holidays and special events during the 2018 season.

Monday, the league revealed the uniforms teams will don on Jackie Robinson Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and during Memorial Day weekend and Independence Day weekend.

The Cubs' regular uniforms are great, of course, but their special event uniforms are solid as well. Take a look:

Not too shabby, eh? In addition to the special caps and jerseys, MLB teams will be rocking unique socks and patches for each occasion. A complete collection of the uniforms can be found here.