‘Sign-and-flip’ candidate Hammel hopes to stick with Cubs for a while
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter March 3, 2014 10:23PM
Updated: April 5, 2014 6:29AM
MESA, Ariz. — Jason Hammel already has become a favorite of pitching coach Chris Bosio in just a few weeks as a Cub.
“We’re unleashing somebody, to be honest with you,” Bosio said as Hammel made his Cubs spring debut, starting a “B” game against the San Francisco Giants on Monday.
Hammel also happens to be this year’s annual project for Bosio, a veteran upside guy on a buy-low one-year contract who figures to be worth a couple of valuable young players near the midsummer trade deadline if Bosio is able to coax that upside out of him.
Bosio helped Scott Feldman find it last year before the Cubs shipped him to the Baltimore Orioles for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. He did it the year before with Paul Maholm (Atlanta Braves for Arodys Vizcaino). And his influence helped Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza have strong starts the last two years that led to trades with the Texas Rangers.
“It’s never easy to see any of our guys traded, especially in the position we’ve been in the last couple of years,” he said, “getting competitive [just before the sell-off starts] as the team’s starting to play well. But in our division and in our situation, when teams come calling offering some big prospects, you have to listen.
“Who knows? Maybe things change this year where we extend this thing. I don’t know.”
Don’t bet on it, say oddsmakers, who have projected the Cubs to win fewer than 70 games.
“The last couple of years, we’ve been able to get our starters hot, all of them,” Bosio said before flashing on the bittersweet ending to those stories.
“But we’ve been able to get a hell of a return, as well, on those guys.”
The guys in the clubhouse have nothing else to go on but the “who-knows” part. That’s where the low-budget rebuilding process is as the Cubs enter their third season under president Theo Epstein. They are already on their second manager and conspicuously short on big-league star power.
Hammel, 31, knows the “sign-and-flip” drill, if for no other reason than the talks he had with onetime Baltimore teammate Feldman before signing with the Cubs.
“Oh, yeah, I’m sure [the media is] going to talk about that all year,” Hammel said after a two-inning debut in which he got peppered by three infield hits but held the Giants scoreless.
“I honestly could care less. That’s the answer you’ll get from me every time. I’m here to win ballgames, and that’s it. That’s my bottom line.”
Hammel had knee surgery that limited him to 20 starts in 2012 and had a negative impact into 2013, wrecking his mechanics and leading to a 7-8, 4.97 ERA season. He has never pitched more than 1772/3 innings in a season, never won more than 10 games and only once had an ERA below 4.00.
But the right-hander has enough talent and just enough experience with rags-to-riches teams that he seems to believe this Cubs team can compete well enough to avoid the sell-off and surprise the world.
“I did it with the Rays, did it with the Rockies and with the Orioles,” he said of teams that went from losing seasons to the playoffs in 2008, 2009 and 2011.
“You need a little bit of veteran leadership, you need some young guys that kind of don’t give a you-know-what and then other guys in the middle that are at that level where they’re becoming professionals. And we have that mix.”
He means it. No matter what Las Vegas or the media or a look at this roster says.
“I like proving people wrong. I like the out-of-nowhere-type stuff,” Hammel said. “It’s kind of the way my whole career has been. I had a lot of naysayers, a lot of guys saying, ‘He’s pretty good but not one of the best.’
“That’s just fuel, and that fuels this whole clubhouse.”