Hammel begins potentially short Cubs run

PITTSBURGH -- New Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jason Hammel is used to making debuts for new teams. Thursday will be his fourth in an eight-year big league career.

But is it just the beginning of the end for the 31-year-old's career as a Cub?

"I'm an inning-at-a-time, pitch-at-a-time kind of guy," Hammel said Wednesday afternoon. "The old cliché, but that's the way it has to be. But I had to learn that because I'd get too far ahead of myself."

It's a good thing, because if he gets ahead of himself he might start thinking about the trade deadline and the possibility of being dealt. There's a reason he's sometimes referred to as the "Scott Feldman of 2014." If you're 30 or over, on a one-year deal or at the end of a contract, you have a good chance of being moved. That's part of the Cubs' plan right now.

"Being my fourth team, I've done it enough to where I'm used to it," Hammel said. "I'm just trying to get off to a good start."

The Cubs bought low on Feldman after an injury-plagued couple of years but saw some peripherals that pointed to a bounce-back season after producing a 5.09 ERA for Texas in 2012. He righted the ship for the Cubs in the first half of 2013 and was dealt to Baltimore in July for two younger arms in Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.

The same formula could be used on Hammel, who signed a one-year, $6 million deal over the winter. It's almost the same deal Feldman signed at about the same age after nearly producing the same ERA (4.97). The Cubs have a way of flipping veteran pitchers for younger talent, and Hammel was aware of that back in spring training.

"I'm not thinking about any of that," he said. "I just want to be healthy and pitch well."

It's probably the same sentiment Feldman expressed a year earlier. Getting attached to 30-somethings on the Cubs is probably not a good idea right now. Nate Schierholtz (30) is likely to be dealt this season, as is pitcher Jose Veras (33). And with Jeff Samardzija approaching 30, he may not be safe either. This is the Cubs way until they believe their cupboard is restocked, then finally they'll start to reverse the trend and trade some youth for a veteran need.

But all of that is contingent on production out of the 30-year-olds. Hammel starts his Cubs career Thursday, but how long will he be here?