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Jason Hammel to hit free agency after Cubs decline his option

CHICAGO -- Just days after winning the World Series, the Chicago Cubs said goodbye to a key regular season component when they declined the $12 million option on starting pitcher Jason Hammel for 2017, the team announced Sunday.

"I want to thank Jason for all of his contributions in his almost three seasons as a Cub," team President Theo Epstein said in a press release Sunday. "He was an effective, reliable starter the entire time he was a Cub, and this year he was an integral part of one of the best rotations in club history. We would not have been in a position to win the World Series without Jason's terrific performance during the regular season."

A source familiar with the situation told ESPN.com that the team gave Hammel the option to decide if he wanted to return in 2017 or test free agency in a very attractive market for starting pitchers.

"When we agreed with Jason on this two-year contract back at the 2014 winter meetings, the option was included with the intent that it would be exercised if Jason was going to be a Cub in 2017," Epstein said. "The intent was never to exercise the option and then trade Jason, so we will not consider that path. 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."

Hammel, 33, went 15-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 2016, but was left off the playoff roster after a bit of a second-half fade partly due to an elbow issue. He went 1-3 in September and October with an 8.71 ERA. But he helped the Cubs get off to a fast start, going 6-1 in April and May, including a 0.75 ERA in the first month of the season.

"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," Epstein said. "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."

Lefty Mike Montgomery is most likely to benefit from the move as he came on strong after the Cubs acquired him in a midseason deal with the Seattle Mariners. Montgomery appeared in 17 regular-season games and 11 postseason contests, starting five games overall. He earned his first career save in Game 7 of the World Series, but from day one the Cubs have discussed using him as a starter in the future. Manager Joe Maddon has raved about Montgomery's stuff, especially a nasty curveball which is effective against both righties and lefties.

Hammel was re-signed by the Cubs before the 2015 season after they traded him in 2014 as part of the deal that brought shortstop Addison Russell to the Cubs from the Oakland Athletics. Hammel will get a buyout of $2 million and can sign with any team beginning at 12:01 am Tuesday morning.