MESA, Ariz. — Jason Hammel used air quotes to make his point: “I don’t want to be that guy that’s ‘flipped.’”
It might sound absurd talking about the trade deadline before the first official workout for pitchers and catchers at Cubs Park, but that’s the new normal for this franchise.
Hammel follows in the footsteps of Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman, who’ve signed short-term, prove-it deals and wound up pitching in pennant races as Theo Epstein’s front office tries to restock the farm system.
Maholm got traded to the Atlanta Braves — the team he rooted for as a kid growing up in Mississippi — in July 2012. Feldman wound up teammates with Hammel after last summer’s deal with the Baltimore Orioles.
“That’s come up, but I’m not even thinking of it that way,” Hammel said Friday. “(They had the) confidence to bring me in. They were the first to come to me in the offseason and show great interest. It was one of the places I wanted to be. It’s a great opportunity. Great leadership. It’s a young crowd here, (and) I’ve been in that position a few different times.”
Hammel said Feldman raved about the organization. In outlining Hammel’s one-year, $6 million deal, general manager Jed Hoyer talked up “our pitching infrastructure” with coaches Chris Bosio, Lester Strode and Mike Borzello. Feldman used that platform to score a three-year, $30 million contract from the Houston Astros this winter.
Hammel is 31 years old, 6-foot-6 and battle-tested after pitching at Coors Field and in the American League East. He made 87 starts for the Colorado Rockies, winning 27 games between 2009 and 2011. He helped the Orioles win a wild card in 2012 and said he’s recovered from the forearm injury that sidelined him last August.
The Cubs identified Hammel before the Winter Meetings and then let the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes play out.
“It was one of my top choices for a landing spot,” Hammel said. “First of all, opportunity-wise, nobody would really consider me, you know, healthy. I didn’t get any negative (feedback) on any physicals or anything like that. But I think there were teams that were still kind of worried about it.
“I’ve been to Chicago a few times. Loved it. Obviously, (there’s) history there and a good group of guys. Jed and Theo — that’s a pretty good squad to play under.
“I feel 100 percent, and I’m good to go. I’m just excited to get going.”
Still, Cubs fans and the Chicago media have seen this one before, so everyone will assume he’s another sign-and-flip guy.
“I’m not even thinking about that,” Hammel said. “The one thing I do know is that I want to win, and I know these guys do, too. The business side of baseball is done with for me. Now, it’s baseball time.”