WASHINGTON — Jason Hammel rolled with the sign-and-flip questions, playing along with the media and saying all the right things about the Cubs organization and the city of Chicago.
But on his way out, Hammel highlighted the tension between the clubhouse, the coaching staff and the front office, articulating some of the frustrations that had been building behind the scenes.
It made “no sense” to Hammel that he only got to face one batter in the seventh inning of Friday’s 7-2 win at Nationals Park. Hammel made a point to say he didn’t blame manager Rick Renteria. The real fireworks came that night with a Fourth of July trade that shipped Hammel and Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland A’s.
“We were close to a deal, and we asked Ricky just to be smart,” Theo Epstein said. “No hard guidelines, but just be smart about things.”
The president of baseball operations didn’t need the postgame comments. But Epstein contacted Hammel after the game, left a voicemail and got a call back from Washington.
“Jason totally understood,” Epstein said. “I was honest with him and said: ‘Look, stay by the phone, because things are happening fast, and there’s a chance I’m going to call you back and you may be involved in a deal.’”
Hammel forced his way into the All-Star conversation by going 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts. He’ll fit right into an Oakland clubhouse that’s thinking World Series or bust. Same with Samardzija, another player who had been frustrated by the pitch-count limits.
Epstein explained: “What I told him was: ‘Jason, you’re 100-percent right — 92 pitches is not fair. That’s overly conservative, and we don’t believe in strict pitch counts like that. We don’t have a policy that forbids our starting pitchers from going well beyond 100, 110 pitches, 115 pitches. I admire you for wanting to stay in the game. And you certainly have the right to voice your opinion.’”
The Cubs used Hammel’s one-year, $6 million deal to help get four prospects from Oakland’s system and will be looking for pitching when he becomes a free agent again.
“No hard feelings either way on that one,” Epstein said.