Chicago Cubs Reportedly Agree to Terms with Jason Hammel (UPDATE: One-Year, $6M)

jason hammel oriolesAmong the non-upper-tier pitching options available on the market right now, this was the guy we’ve been banging the drum about …

Ken Rosenthal reports that the Chicago Cubs have agreed to terms with free agent righty Jason Hammel, pending a physical. We’re still waiting to hear the terms of the agreement, which will go a long way to determining just how attractive the deal is.

Reported interest in Hammel for the Cubs goes back to early December, far before the Masahiro Tanaka madness, and before a great deal of the free agency sorting happened. Even then I was intrigued:

Hammel, 31, is a free agent for the first time after coming up with the Rays, spending a few mixed years in Colorado, and then pitching in Baltimore the past two seasons. It was a mixed bag in Baltimore, with an effective 2012 (3.43 ERA over 118 innings, 2.69 K/BB) and a down 2013 (4.97 ERA over 139.1 innings, 2.00 K/BB). Interestingly, the results weren’t all that flukey. Hammel was actually very good in 2012 (3.29 FIP, 22.9% K rate, relatively normal BABIP and HR/FB rate, and a 2.6 WAR in just 118 innings), and very bad in 2013 (4.93 FIP, 15.7% K rate, normal BABIP, slightly elevated HR/FB).

The biggest difference for Hammel in 2013? His groundball rate took a nosedive, from a very nice 53.2% in 2012 to just 40.1% in 2013. Couple that with the slight uptick in HR/FB rate (more fly balls, and more of ‘em going for homers), and you’ve got a guy who went from giving up 9 homers in 118 innings in 2012 to 22 in 139.1 innings the next year.

Why did it happen? Well, I’m not sure it if was intentional, but Hammel seemed to rely much more heavily on his four-seamer than his two-seamer last year, the latter of which can generate more groundballs for some pitchers. His velocity was down slightly, but not enough to account for the dramatic drop-off in performance. Could “fixing” him really be as simple as suggesting more two-seamers?

I won’t pretend to know the answer, but his history is an interesting study of up-and-down performance, without a lot of traditional good/bad luck indicators. It’s almost like sometimes he’s on, and sometimes he’s off. In any case, he projects to be a relatively average 2-win type pitcher next year, which is perfectly fine at the back of the rotation.

For the Cubs, who knows? Maybe Chris Bosio works some magic, Hammel’s groundball rate (and strikeout rate) tick back up, and he becomes this year’s Scott Feldman on a one-year prove-it deal (with a midseason trade).

So, again, among the mid-or-lower-tier starting options, Hammel was probably my favorite. Good on the Cubs for getting him, assuming Rosenthal’s report is accurate and there are no issues with the physical.

To be sure, Hammel isn’t exactly an apples-to-apples fall-back from Tanaka, who wound up signing with the Yankees. Instead, Hammel is a back-of-the-rotation, small-investment, innings-eating guy. With 2014 looking like another season treading water, getting someone like Hammel on a short-term, cheap deal is an “appropriate” move, if not a sexy one.

Presumably, Hammel slots right into the rotation, which currently features Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson as a clear-cut front three. Jake Arrieta is an odds-on favorite for the next spot, so adding Hammel nominally bumps someone from the Chris Rusin/Carlos Villanueva/Justin Grimm group into a depth role (with the other two). That said, there’s always competition in the Spring, plus the possibility of injuries or trades – or other signings, though I’d tentatively expect the Cubs to be done at this point with starting pitchers. With a full 40-man, someone will have to get the boot to accommodate Hammel when the deal is finalized.

In the end, the reaction here is more of an approving nod than a tickled smile. This is a good move. It’s the right move. Wry-smile-thumbs-up.

UPDATE: Jeff Passan hears, as expected, that it’ll be a one-year deal in the $6 million range. That’s a solid value for a guy like this (Scott Feldman was one-year, $6 million; Scott Baker was one-year, $5.5 million; Carlos Villanueva was two-years, $10 million). Barely any risk, and, as we saw with Feldman, some nice potential for flipping.

UPDATE 2: Jon Heyman says it is indeed one year and $6 million, plus up to $1 million in incentives (presumably tied to games started). My approving nod continues, as this is pretty much the low end of what Hammel was expected to get (earlier in the offseason, two years seemed possible).

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

178 responses to “Chicago Cubs Reportedly Agree to Terms with Jason Hammel (UPDATE: One-Year, $6M)”

  1. willis

    I’m down with this. Good stuff.

  2. hansman

    YAY!!! THE CUBS DID SOMETHING!!!!!

  3. On The Farm

    Brett, nailed it.

    Congrats

    1. JacqueJones

      Ya Bretty you really did nail this. A lot of guys predict that the cubs will go after a lot of people then look good when they were right on some of them, but this is the one guy you really thought the cubs would go for and you were dead on and I’m not even surprised. Keep up the great work!

  4. Jim

    I kinda love this. Buy low(ish). Career ~2 WAR guy, due for a bounceback. Flippable piece.

    1. On The Farm

      Very Scott Feldman-ish, I like it so far.

    2. MattyNomad

      I could definately see a July trade coming out of this…wouldnt mind a low-a ball pitching or catching prospect with high ceiling/high risk potential. Its nice to see the obvious “A+” prospect but for a deal like this, you could strike that diamond in the rough every once in a while. Time will tell!

      1. Noah_I

        Hammel is very similar in potential value to Maholm/Feldman when the Cubs signed them. If Hammel succeeds, the Cubs will likely be able to get some higher ceiling (than Hammel) talent that has their own flaws.

    3. mr. mac

      The ink isn’t yet dry and we’re already talking about flipping him. Welcome to the 2014 Cubs.

      1. gocatsgo2003

        Sadly, that element has to be part of the calculus that goes into evaluating almost any of our short-term signings and I’m SURE it goes into the decision-making process of our Front Office.

        1. mr. mac

          Yeah, I know. I understand it. It’s just funny that Spring training hasn’t started yet, and it already feels like a lost season. I’ll remain optimistic, though. VIVA EL 2014 CUBS!

          1. MattyNomad

            Perhaps im just spitting out the same speal we’ve heard for years, and maybe im stuck drinking some that front office kool-aid….but can we really call 2014 a lost season just yet? I mean, im sure even Renteria isnt predicting a winning team on the major league level…but even last year brought 3 playoff teams produced a top 100 prospect in edwards and even gave us a potential starter in Mike Olt. Im sure Hammel wasnt guns blazing super excited to sign to a 90+ loss team for a one year deal…but he knows what were trying to do here. Gotta agree with Gogcatsgo, its part of our process and anyone signing to these kind of deals has to know that. If it yields one season of a fill in #5, then at the very lease we’ve had the opportunity to continue developing in the minors. But there is still always the chance of bringing something for the future

            1. mr. mac

              I would much rather be optimistic that something fun could happen than just going into the season all angry and mad from (before) Spring training on. Let’s see what happens. Pass the Kool-Aid!

      2. 26.2CubsFan

        This is part of the appeal of the Cubs for FA pitching at this point. Hammel can’t sign with a contender right now, because he’s unproven and had a bad year last year. If he succeeds (which he thinks he will because he has an athlete’s ego), then he is guaranteed to be traded to a team in the hunt during the summer. That, or he gets to ‘prove it’ and get a bigger deal next winter. If he’s confident he can bounce back, this is the best path to do it. That, and the Cubs coaching staff has established a bit of a pattern of turning these types of down-season pitchers around.

  5. cjdubbya

    Hmmm…I’m good with this. A small part of me would have rather the Cubs have signed Maholm, if only to see if they could have flipped him for a larger haul than they did in 2012. But the rotation looks alright to me now. Not great, but not terrible.

  6. NorthSideIrish

    I would still like an extended look at what Grimm or Cabrera could do in the rotation, but Hammel was the best of the remaining SPs without compensation attached.

    1. Jim

      The no compensation part is huge, especially for a low win guy like this. Giving up a 2nd rounder would negate all value for him imo.

    2. CubFan Paul

      ‘would still like an extended look at what Grimm or Cabrera could do in the rotation’

      +1, especially in another lost rebuilding year.

      1. Ill see you at Sluggers.

        I totally agree, but I think with injuries they’ll get some chances. Maybe Grimm starts off in the pen and moves over to a SP position at some point, maybe Bosio works out some kinks and he earns a spot out of spring training? Who knows, but I’m higher on Grimm than a lot of other people are. I do like the Hammel signing though, and Brett absolutely crushed this one, GREAT WORK BRETT!!!!

        1. cubsfan08

          Or in the 2nd half of the season. In a perfect world they flip Hammel at the deadline and the younger guys get a chance, with less pressure, to audition the rest of the year.

        2. willis

          This will allow Grimm to start off in AAA getting the ball every 5th day. He performs well down there he’ll be the first one up if an injury happens or when a trade happens. Grimm still has some things to work out and polish, so I’m very good with him starting at AAA and starting. I think eventually he ends up a reliever, but too early to tell and this move gives Grimm a shot to keep starting and round into form in AAA.

  7. Patrick G

    I preferred this over high priced Jimenez Santana and arroyo. It’s a nice buy low option similar to Feldman. Good job cubs

  8. MightyBear

    Meh

  9. Voice of Reason

    Jason Hammel carries a lifetime record of 49-59 with a lifetime ERA of 4.80 yet he has made
    $17,218,500 in his career.

    I’m always amazed at how much money these shitty major league baseball players make!

    1. CubChymyst

      Yes of course, because anyone off the street can do their job.

    2. Edwin

      Probably because even a shitty MLB player is one of the best in the world at what he does, and MLB makes a ton of money.

    3. Jon

      You strike me as the type that bitches about the cost of gas 24/7.

    4. On The Farm

      His 2009 and 2010 seasons in WAR are better than any two seasons of Samardzija’s career.

      1. ssckelley

        At the same amount of money. :D

  10. CubChymyst

    I like the addition. Gives the Cubs a little more depth on the starter front.

  11. brickhouse

    Zzzzzzzzzzzz – I’d rather they had used an internal option

  12. woody

    I’m glad we didn’t sign Maholm again. It would be nice to have another lefty in the rotation, but Hammel seems to have more upside potential than Maholm. Solid pickup!

  13. Blackhawks1963

    This is purchase of a lottery ticket. Nothing more. We bet $5.5 million on Scott Baker and that turned out money down the toilet. I’m dubious on Hammel, because if his health prognosis was encouraging for 2014 then why hasn’t he already been gobbled up.

  14. Blackhawks1963

    So it looks like Arrieta, Grimm, Rusin and Hammel duke it out for 2 rotation spots. Depressing list of names, but 2014 is going to stink anyway. I like Arrieta and hope and pray he is salvageable.

    1. cubsfan08

      Not depressing at all. If Arrieta, Grimm, and Rusin were all 36 years old? Then yes. Very depressing. These guys are young and it is exciting that they will get a chance to prove themselves. They either have a bright future, or no future.

      If the Cubs were trotting out 15 year veteran pitchers who have proven they are nothing more than average and getting paid 10 mil a year – that’s depressing. And I’m personally glad we won’t have to see that anytime soon.

      1. SalukiHawk

        Totally agree 08…Remember Rodrigo Lopez/Doug Davis/Ramon Ortiz? Eesh.

      2. Brocktoon

        None of these guys are young

        Grimm is the youngest and he’s 25. Rusin is 27 arrieta turns 28 in March and hammel is 31

        1. gocatsgo2003

          That’s not very old in the MLB pitching world… the average age for pitchers in MLB according to Baseball Reference was 28.4 years old for 2013.

  15. ssckelley

    Cubs have had success signing these under-the-radar type of pitchers. Hammel appears to have better numbers coming in than Feldman did last year. So let’s see what Bosio can do with this guy.

  16. clark addison

    Best case scenario: He doesn’t make it into the rotation because somebody better (Rusin, Arrietta?) steps up.

  17. snakdad

    Whatever keeps us away from Arroyo is ok with me.

  18. Kyle

    I like Hammel and really don’t care for Villanueva as a starter, so I figure this is about a one-win upgrade. I’m a tiny step closer to happy.

  19. Jon

    Jeff Passan ‏@JeffPassan 9m
    Sources: Jason Hammel’s deal with the Cubs is for one year. Should fall somewhere in the $6M range. Really nice sign. Could be Feldman 2.0.

  20. NorthSideIrish

    According the B-R, Hammel’s #3 comp is Scott Feldman. But his #1 comp is Lil Stoner…which may be my new favorite baseball name.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hammeja01.shtml

  21. BenW

    Sounds like 1 year, around 6 million per Jeff Passan. If true, extremely solid deal. Exactly what the Cubs were looking for.

  22. Jason P

    I would have preferred Arroyo or Burnett, but Hammel is still an upgrade. Marginal improvement.

    1. Jon

      We should still sign Burnett….

      1. Noah_I

        Burnett is going to be staying east coast if that’s an option for him at all, and he actually is someone who is probably looking to play for a contender at his age. I’d love for the Cubs to have him, but I’m not sure there is any amount of money they could give him to come over.

  23. willis

    Shark, Wood, Jax, Arrieta, Hammel…not terrible. Surely not great but that’s an ok rotation.

    1. Kyle

      The main thing dragging us down at this point is the outfield. Maybe the infield bench.

      1. ChiMike702

        Rotation is decent, bullpen looks strong but the lineup (as it stands) will be very very bad.

    2. CubChymyst

      That is my guess at the starting rotation at this point as well. It definitely has potential to be an above average rotation. I think league average with that rotation well within the realm of possibilities. As Kyle said, the outfield looks weak right now, but the infield could be strong.

      1. willis

        What makes you dream is Arrieta’s stuff like Brett said. He’s got an awesome arm. Just hasn’t put it together. But his stuff is damn good. IF he can find some kind of consistency…all of the sudden it’s an above average rotation. I said it a couple weeks ago, but Arrieta as well as Olt are the two guys I’m most intrigued by and looking forward to seeing if they can break through.

  24. ChiMike702

    I hope the Cubs see something they can adjust with him because, aside from 2012, he just isn’t very good.

  25. Edwin

    At the very least, the Cubs should have a pretty hard throwing rotation, even if the results aren’t always great.

  26. Senor Cub

    Good job Brett. I am excited the Cubs got him not because I know anything about Hammel but because it’s the guy you wanted all along. The pressure is on you now…he better perform. :)

    The bench all of a sudden is looking pretty good with all these back of the rotation starters. If they get good quality starts from Hammel and the likes, those arms in the pen could really make an impact, now they just need clutch hitting from ”anyone’.

  27. Norm

    eh, I don’t see the upside in Hammel, but then I remember who the front office is and how they can do no wrong, ever.

    1. TulaneCubs

      His 2012 season is his upside. Pretty easy to see.

    2. terencemann

      I think you’re right that the upside is limited. This just gives them 5 starters with significant experiences starting at the ML level instead of having to rotate through a few big risks at the back of the rotation to start the season.

    3. Noah_I

      Same thing could have been said for Feldman or Maholm. It’s a low risk, medium reward move if he performs and can be flipped. People reacted similarly when Hammel went to the Orioles (THAT’s your pitching move type of reaction), and while he pitched over his head in 2012, he did help the O’s make it to the playoffs.

  28. TulaneCubs

    Sooo… Brett Marshall DFA? Have to think Brooks Raley and Brett Jackson may be in the mix as well.

    1. CubFan Paul

      “Sooo… Brett Marshall DFA?”

      Why would they DFA a decent ML ready arm? Raley maybe, but not Marshall (I hope).

  29. J. L.

    They’ll have to clear a spot on the roster. Brett Marshall?

  30. terencemann

    It seems like he’s not terrible so long as he can keep the ball down. Just to point out, Baltimore is a homer friendly park.

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