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CHICAGO (AP) — Jason Hammel never wanted to leave the Chicago Cubs, a team with decidedly increased expectations since he last pitcherd at Wrigley Field.
Hammel and the Cubs finalized a $20 million, two-year contract Friday, a deal agreed to earlier in the week. The agreement includes a $12 million club option for 2017 with a $2 million buyout. If the option is exercised, the contract would be worth $30 million for three seasons.
The 32-year-old right-hander was 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts for the Cubs before he was traded to Oakland on July 5 with pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Hammel went 2-6 with a 4.26 ERA for the Athletics.
"The phone call that happened when (president of baseball operations Theo Epstein) said that 'we're moving you to Oakland' was kind of bittersweet," Hammel said. "I felt I had pitched my way to stay here and proved myself, and he acknowledged that. But it was something that just had to be done. I knew that this was a place for me and I wanted to come back, and I was going to get a real good opportunity (to return)."
The Cubs still are seeking their first championship since 1908. But they believe they are in position to make a jump in the NL Central after five straight losing seasons.
Besides bringing back Hammel, they added three-time All-Star Jon Lester with a $155 million, six-year agreement likely to be completed next week. They also acquired two-time All-Star catcher Miguel Montero from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
All those moves came after the Cubs hired one of the game's top managers, replacing Rick Renteria with former Tampa Bay skipper Joe Maddon. Hammel played for Maddon with the Rays and teamed with Lester in Oakland.
The two pitchers talked about the Cubs, although Lester knew Chicago's front office well from their time together in Boston.
"I think the Theo-Jon bromance was gonna happen, anyways," Hammel said.
With Lester and Hammel joining Jake Arrieta (10-5 with a 2.53 ERA in 25 starts) and Kyle Hendricks (7-2, 2.46 ERA), the Cubs figure to have a strong rotation.
Chicago also has a pair of All-Stars in shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Young sluggers Javier Baez and Jorge Soler arrived in the majors last season and another wave of prospects is in the pipeline, including third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Addison Russell.
"You see a lot of things going on right now," Hammel said. "It's not just shtick. It's not just flash. They're making a commitment to winning here."
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