What do you mean, excitement? What do you mean, a different vibe around the Cubs?
Jason Hammel acted confused by the first question from a reporter Friday, then grinned.
‘‘Was there another big signing or something?’’ he said.
Three days before half the Boston media and a pack of national writers descend on Chicago for Jon Lester’s big introductory event, it was just Hammel and a few old local media pals at the Cubs’ offices for the announcement of the right-hander’s two-year deal.
If that made Hammel the $20 illion appetizer for the
$155 million main course Monday, well, it’s a lot better than being a flip guy. Especially in his second time around with the Cubs.
‘‘You see a lot of things going on right now, and it’s not just shtick, it’s not just flash,’’ said Hammel, who signed a two-year deal (with a
$12 million option for 2017) barely five months after the Cubs traded him to the Oakland Athletics with Jeff Samardzija to get big-shot prospect Addison Russell.
‘‘They’re making a commitment to winning here,’’ Hammel added. ‘‘It’s not just, ‘We’re trying to surprise people.’ This is a commitment to winning.
“I can probably speak for everybody here. We’re kind of tired of the old Cubs. This is the new Cubs.’’
Wait ’til they get a load of Lester. And All-Star catcher Miguel Montero, acquired in a trade for prospects last week. And $25 million Joe Maddon in the manager’s seat. And whatever else the front office adds before spring training.
‘‘It really is a good time to be in Chicago right now,’’ said Hammel, who was 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA with the Cubs after signing a one-year, $6 million sign-and-flip deal last year.
He finished with a 10-11 record and a 3.47 ERA overall after a rough opening few weeks with the A’s.
As he did in July, Hammel said Friday that his few months in Chicago were the best of his career, personally as much as professionally. When team president Theo Epstein told him back then that there would be interest in bringing him back as a free agent, Hammel prioritized the Cubs over potentially bigger deals.
‘‘I’m sure I left money on the table, but that doesn’t bother me,’’ said Hammel, who struck an especially strong relationship with pitching coach Chris Bosio. ‘‘The intangibles of coming back to something that made me comfortable and happy, all around, family and baseball . It was a no-brainer.’’
On his way back to the Midwest, Hammel may have helped bring onetime A’s teammate Lester along with him. After Lester joined the A’s in late July, Hammel and Samardzija got in his ear about the Cubs, a team Lester already had on his free-agent radar because of his past relationship in Boston with Epstein and execs Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod.
‘‘We definitely talked about it. And he was asking, too,’’ Hammel said. ‘‘But I think the Theo-Jon bromance was going to happen anyway.’’
With Lester, a three-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion, at the top of a rotation that also includes Jake Arrieta coming off a breakout season, Hammel sees big things right away for the Cubs, even if they are coming off back-to-back last-place finishes.
He also trusts the impact Maddon can make after playing for him the first three years of his career, including the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays team that reached the World Series.
‘‘I honestly believe it’s going to be a winning formula,’’ Hammel said. ‘‘I can’t predict the future, but it’s going to be a very dominant rotation. And you win championships with pitching.’’
Hammel’s deal pays $9 million each in 2015 and ’16 with a $2 million buyout price on the option.