Cubs decline RHP Jason Hammel’s $12 million option for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Cubs declined Jason Hammel’s $12 million option for next season, opening a spot in their rotation and making the right-hander one of the top starters on the free-agent market.

The World Series champions announced the move Sunday. Hammel gets a $2 million buyout.

“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,” President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said in a statement. “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.”

The 34-year-old Hammel went 15-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 30 starts this year. The 6-foot-6 right-hander is 33-22 with a 3.59 ERA in 78 starts over two stints with the Cubs.

Hammel did not pitch in the postseason. The Cubs got left-hander Mike Montgomery in a July trade with Seattle, and he could replace Hammel in the rotation.

Hammel first signed with the Cubs in February 2014. He went 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts before he was traded to Oakland in the deal that sent shortstop Addison Russell to Chicago.

The pitcher re-signed with Chicago in December 2014, for $20 million over two years.

“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,” Epstein said. “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.”

Montgomery was on hand when the Cubs were honored at Sunday night’s NHL game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars. Montgomery, right fielder Jason Heyward and slugger Kyle Schwarber, along with team owner Tom Ricketts and a couple of Cubs executives, brought the World Series trophy to center ice, and the players posed with a “W” flag as the crowd roared its approval.

Retiring catcher David Ross, fresh off his appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” later joined the group and got a big ovation when he was shown on the videoboard holding the trophy.