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).

  • Carne Harris

    Let’s hope the money’s down because this seems less like a bounce back candidate than a let’s-hope-he-can-repeat-2012… but not any other year. Career-wise he is marginally better in April/May/June than July/August/September, so hopefully that bodes well for him being a flippable piece.

    • moorhosj

      2012 was his third best season with 2.6 WAR. He had WAR of 3.7 in 2009 and 3.8 in 2010. I think it is more like let’s-hope-he-doesn’t-repeat-2013…but any other year.

      • Carne Harris

        2006: -0.5
        2007: 0.4
        2008: 0.1
        2009: 2.0
        2010: 1.5
        2011: 0.5
        2012: 3.0
        2013: 0.0

        We need to deathmatch baseball reference and fangraphs so we know who to believe.

        • YourResidentJag

          Well, as of 2013, both should be in agreement. Don’t know what to tell you as of years prior. http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/unifying-replacement-level/

          • YourResidentJag

            Until early 2013, it used to be that another significant difference between the two systems was that each calculated Replacement Level differently. That has since been changed, and both sites now calculate replacement level the same way:

            This new unified replacement level is now set at 1,000 WAR per 2,430 Major League games, which is the number of wins available in a 162 game season played by 30 teams. Or, an easier way to put it is that our new replacement level is now equal to a .294 winning percentage, which works out to 47.7 wins over a full season.

            • Drew7

              That actually isn’t the reason those numbers are different.

              IIRC, Fangraphs went back and adjusted their historical WAR totals when the two agreed to unify replacement level.

              The main reason for the difference: FG uses FIP-based (predictive) WAR, while B-R uses RA9-based (descriptive) WAR.

              • YourResidentJag

                Not really gonna dispute that. But I got this off FanGraphs including the article I posted…. So, you’re saying there’s a process towards unification?

                • Drew7

                  What you’re referencing *is* the unification.

                  A big part of the discrepancy between the two *was* the different definitions of replacement. Now, as you’ve pointed out, they have come together and agreed on one uniform definition, which adjusted some of Fangraph’s historical totals. Now, when we look at Hammel’s WAR pre-2013, it will reflect the adjustments made.

                  As I said though: there’s still a huge difference in pitcher-WAR, since each site seeks to answer a different question (what happened vs. what is likely to happen in the future) with their respective formulas.

                  • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                    Is FIP really *just* a predictive stat, though? It’s also descriptive of what the pitcher actually did, yes?

        • RoscoeVillageFan

          Love that

  • Bilbo161

    I think he’s a decent pick-up. Nice to have some depth considering some guys may be traded at the deadline or before. I’m kind-of hoping by that time some of the Grimm, Rusin, Hendricks, or Beeler bunch might be ready to step up.

  • Serious Cubs Fan

    Well it looks like we can look forward to a Samardzija, Hammels, Veras, Russell maybe Barney, Valbuena sell offs during the trade deadline

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett


      • Serious Cubs Fan

        I look forward to it every year!

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        To really have an epic blogathon will all those guys in trade talks, the Cubs would probably have to be pretty good out of the gate and be at least around .500 entering July.

        Otherwise, most of them would be gone by the end of July, I think.

        Unless Brett extends the blogathan to cover six weeks or so…

      • Xruben31

        Schierholtz, Villanueva, Murphy

    • notcubbiewubbie

      sure hope your right 2014 looks like another 88-99 loss season.:(

    • Danny Ballgame

      Throw in Nate, Ruggiano, Sweeney, and Murph

      • nkniacc13

        they could also look to add as well as sell off with some of their minor league postion talent

  • NorthSideIrish

    Buster Olney ‏@Buster_ESPN 3m
    Some teams that considered Jason Hammel were concerned about what they believed to be a heightened risk of an elbow injury.

    And that’s why there are no bad 1 year contracts…he’s still worth the risk.

    • DarthHater

      “there are no bad 1 year contracts”

      Ian Stewart begs to disagree.

      • NorthSideIrish

        It was pretty good for Stewart…

        • DarthHater

          By that reasoning, there are no bad contracts, period.

          • hansman

            Mike Trout begs to disagree.

            • DarthHater

              It’s pretty good for the Angels…

              • hansman

                Ya, I realized that after I hit send.

                The only contract that isn’t amazing for one side or the other would be Darvish.

                The Rangers overpaid by ~$30M and Darvish is being shorted about $7M a year.

                • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

                  It was pretty good for Darvish’s old team.

                  • hansman

                    Damn it guys. Why you gotta pick on me. Just a bunch of full timers picking on the new guy.

              • NorthSideIrish

                See? It all about perspective…you just have to be flexible.

      • CubsFaninMS

        *Ian Stewart TWEETS to disagree

    • Assman22

      Add James McDonald to the starting pitching heap as well…could be in the rotation after the July deadline…rotations in Chicago/Iowa are getting crowded…

      • jp3

        Yeah we’re stacked on pitching….errr

  • dreese

    Good call Brett!

    • D-Rock

      Brett, do you have “sources”? Either that or your crystal ball did it again. Well done, sir.

  • Kevrconnors

    Am I crazy, or could the Cubs be the surprise contender this year?

    • DarthHater

      Hmmm … let’s see … gotta think about that … Nope. Crazy. 😉

    • Noah_I

      The number of things that would have to go right for that to happen are too unlikely to call “sane.”

    • Danny Ballgame

      Bottom of a cave, batshit crazy

    • CubsFaninMS

      Those chances are the equivalent to our mascot changing from Clark to Twerking Miley. Possible but highly unlikely.

  • lukobravo

    This guy will be nothing more than All-star break trade fodder, I’m willing to bet at the same time ticket sales will have plummeted to all time lows and Wrigley will be a ghost town. Not that we need to be spending money to be good or anything. Us fans just love watching this team lose…. Preach to me all you want that “oh in 2015/2016 we’ll have a playoff contender”…I call BS. I’m sorry, I’m so sick of watching this team sit on their hands and do nothing every off season. We always just miss out on this player or that player. OR we sign Sorianos. Fact is why would ANYONE want to play for this team? No one plays to lose.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      “This guy will be nothing more than All-star break trade fodder”

      Um. Yeah?

    • DarthHater

      Average attendance at Wrigley in 1962: 7,528 (and that’s not even the all-time low)

      Yea, I’ll take your bet.

    • Kevrconnors

      You clearly have a limited understanding of The Plan. What have Tom and Theo done that contradicts their goals from the get go? They have a unique opportunity to absorb a short term profit loss that is less than most teams would dream of. And at what expense? The fans that lack an understanding of the dynamics of MLB today. Take your time Theo/Jed, I like the direction this organization has taken.

      • Jon

        What have Tom and Theo done that contradicts their goals from the get go?

        “Parallel Fronts”
        “Every Opportunity to win is sacred”

        • DarthHater


          • Fishin Phil

            I think it moved.

            • DarthHater

              Sorry, but I don’t see what quoting Jon’s girlfriend has to do with the present conversation. 😉

              • jp3

                Wow, just wow (sprays IPA out of mouth).

          • Jon

            Is that our 4th starter, or left fielder?

            • DarthHater

              Left fielder. He’s good at making contact.

              • Wilburthefirst

                Well played …

          • VanceLawblawsLawBlog


        • Jon

          “I didn’t use the world rebuilding and I wouldn’t. I think that is just a buzzword in baseball that leads people down the wrong path,” Epstein said.
          “The best way I can describe it is there are parallel fronts — the job of building the scouting and player development foundation that is going to serve well for the long haul and treating every opportunity to win as sacred.”

          “Every opportunity to win is sacred,” Epstein said. “It’s sacred to us inside the organization and it should be sacred to the fans as well. They deserve our best efforts to do what we can to improve the club, and put the club in position to succeed in any given season.

          • Kevrconnors

            Sacred enough to go after that protected pick in the draft. Sustained success is expedited by an infusion of crazy good talent. I think we’ll see that pay dividends when Bryant homers off Appel in game 5.

          • roz

            You can quote that shit all you want, but Theo pretty much had no other options but to say that. They’ve planned on rebuilding the entire organization from the get go, and everything they’ve done has been for the long-term health of the club, plain and simple. You can quote parallel fronts out the wazoo if you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that Theo and Jed have stuck to their plan the entire time, and have been right to do so.

        • Kevrconnors

          Would you prefer they just say they intend to lose 100 games? Better left unsaid.

          • Jon

            Your two statements:

            What have Tom and Theo done that contradicts their goals from the get go?

            Better left unsaid.

            Contradict each other then……

            • Kevrconnors

              Really? Attacking semantics is hardly an effective way to bolster your opinion…..which is what by the way?

    • Jon

      I actually wish we would sign a Soriano again…..

    • Noah_I

      The “ghost town” version of Wrigley, for the 4th worst team in the league, still had the 12th highest attendance in baseball in 2013, which was better than the following playoff teams: Atlanta (13th), Cincinnati (15th), Pittsburgh (19th), Oakland (23rd), Cleveland (28th) and Tampa Bay (30th). The Cubs still have a waiting list for season tickets (I’m still at just over 50,000 on the wait list, and I’ve been on it for 5 years).

      MLB players play to get paid. There has yet to be reports of a single MLB player who spurned the Cubs after being offered an equivalent deal monetarily by the Cubs. Criticisms that the Cubs aren’t spending money: valid, at least potentially. Criticisms that players just don’t want to play for the Cubs: imaginary.

  • Steve

    Treading water??

    This Cubs team has drowned, dropped to the bottom of the lake, decayed, internally given off gases from the rotting flesh, and is ascending to the surface to float until devoured by scavengers….

    • Fishin Phil

      You have such a way with words. Rosenbloom, is that you???

      • Steve

        I’m a wordsmith.

        Just ask me about the night I spent with Marisa Miller…..

  • bobdawg78

    So who do people think is removed from the 40 man to make room for Hammel? Personally I’d like to see a small trade made to create the roster spot. Barney for a PTBNL would be my preference, because Barney has little to no value, and I’d rather keep guys like B. Jackson and B. Marshall in the minors to develop or work their way off the 40 man at a later date.

  • Fastball

    You can probably slot him at 4 or 5 flip flop Hammels and Arietta all day. I think you slot Grimm at 6, Vallanueva 7 and Rusin 8. So wow we have 5 number 5 starters. Thats okay. I am hoping one of our younger college drafted arms spring boards into the mix around mid season. That would be a nice surprise. If Hammel and Arietta both pitch really well we should be alright if our bullpen actually pitches decent. I am still not sold on those guys except for Strop. The rest are all still big time ??? marks as far as I am concerned. Call me one of Little Faith when it comes to the bullpen.

  • Fastball

    In that Picture Hammels looks like Dempster… are we sure Hammels isn’t posing as Dempster?

  • Fastball

    Well it’s pretty easy to sign less than mid range talent. I wouldn’t say the Cubs are every players preferred destination right now. When we sign a real major league player I will believe that players don’t view the Cubs as last resort to a paycheck right now.

  • http://BleacherNation blewett

    This move makes sense. We have a definitive 5-man rotation now (until someone gets hurt or stinks it up).

  • terencemann

    Fangraphs reports that Hammel was pitching through arm issues last season:


    “Hammel said the nagging issue first began in Spring Training, and it’s most noticeable on his slider.”

    So, I guess there’s a little more hope?

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  • diamonddon

    Maybe Hammel will win more games than Tanaka and for a lot less money. This would surely make Cub fans, Theo, and Jed happy.

  • Pat

    So passing on good free agents was a good idea because marginal wins are counterproductive to the plan, but this is a good idea because…the plan?

    • diamonddon

      Yes Hammel will be another great flip candidate at deadline for prospects. Didn’t cost us much and is just part of the plan to develop and win through minor league system.. Great signing!

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      If you can’t see how signing a non-compensation guy like Hammel (or Feldman) to a one-year deal fits the plan, while spending $50+ million on compensation free agents does not, you’re really not trying.

      (And that’s if we’re living in the magical world where the Cubs could get any free agent they want for precisely the same deal they signed with whatever team they signed with. There’s never competition.)

      • hansman

        Damnit Brett…quit being the voice of reason.


        • DarthHater

          Come to think of it, I’ve never seen the two of them in the same place at the same time…

      • YourResidentJag

        It’s not just compensatory FAs, it’s 2nd tier overvalued FAs. And 1 potential overvalued Robinson Cano.

  • npnovak

    I thought Hammel was a lefty for some reason. I spend an unhealthy amount of hours playing The Show every year, so I’m not quite sure how I have that misconception.

    • http://www.survivingthalia.com Mike Taylor

      That’s Joe Saunders, who used to pitch for the Orioles.

  • Diehardthefirst

    Moneyball redux

  • brainiac

    um, awesome?

  • Jon

    At least in Moneyball part 1 , the obscure dumpster diving led to 90+ wins, not 90+ losses

  • geo

    After returning from recovery of tommy john, baker makes three solid starts to end the season. This fo wasted 5.5 mil on a pitcher 1 yr removed from tommy john when it usually takes a year & a half before they are back to full speed. So they paid him 5.5 to get a feel of pitching again, & to recover. Now I hear the mariners signed baker to a minor league deal of a million dollars if he makes the team with potential learning an additional 3.25 in performance bonuses. My question is this, why wouldn’t the cubs sign him to this team friendly deal when he is 2 yrs away from tommy john & 100% healed with no gamble with a lifetime era around 3.50 I know it has to be under 4 , but instead pay 6 mil for 1 yr of hammel with career era of 4.70????

  • geo

    A ha, we are still in top draft pick gathering mode.

    • Bill

      Great point, geo. They elect to sign a guy who was terrible last year, which could be a red flag that he’s declining. Baker was a better pitcher, finally healthy, and much less of a risk. Seems like a much better gamble to me. Even if he sucks, he doesn’t cost much and if we are honest, this is actually the goal of the Theo/Jed.

      • dAn

        “Baker was a better pitcher, finally healthy, and much less of a risk.”

        Baker’s FB was topping out at 87 mph late last year, after having been 93 pre-injury. It’s not risky signing a guy like that?

        • YourResidentJag

          Except when you consider the flyball rate and the fact that he doesn’t walk many.

  • Blackhawks1963

    There’s going to be no in between in Hammel. Either he is a middling contributor in line with his time in Baltimore outside of his one outlier year or his elbow is in shreds and we just pissed away $6 million.

    Feldman was never a medical red flag or recovery guy. Ditto Maholm. Hammel on the other hand smells like Baker all over again. Perusing the internet flashes articles and such that many teams think Hammel is one pitch away from elbow surgery. So do we abuse him and get our nickel’s worth before he crashes? Or do the Cubs feel more comfortable about his meds and we look forward to 150 innings and an ERA if 5.00?

    Either way I would have just given the ball to Grimm instead. Theo seems to be rolling the dice that he has a Maholm – Feldman grade flip candidate with Hammel.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Feldman missed almost all of 2011 with serious knee surgery and was still getting over the effects the year before the Cubs signed him. Maholm was shut down with shoulder issues the August before the Cubs signed him. #Facts

      • Soda Popinski

        “Oh, those pesky facts.”
        (I can’t remember if I’m quoting Darth or Goat.)

        • cjdubbya

          Probably both, at some point.

    • baldtaxguy

      “Theo seems to be rolling the dice that he has a Maholm – Feldman grade flip candidate with Hammel.”

      As he did in each of those instances, it was a strategic gamble. It is here as well. As Brett notes, due to coming off injury, there was no guarantee that either Maholm or Feldman would generate 1st half performance that would yield a deadline trade. Same here with Hammel.

      “Either way I would have just given the ball to Grimm instead.”

      Grimm needs to perform and earn a spot – nothing should be given. Same for Hammel – he could find himself as the #6 if is outperformed by others.

  • Eternal Pessimist

    Are the clocks ticking on the in house options that might be sent back to the minors? If their team control clocks are ticking anyway (the ones who have already been in the majors especially). I might prefer to use our in-house guys instead, but he would seem like a good flip candidate.

  • http://bleachernation 29bigcat

    So we paid baker more last yr than kershaw will get per yr….per start……an we dont try to keep him on the cheap,he goes to seatle…then we pay hammels 6-7m coming off an injury……bronson arroyo could b had 2 yr 24m and is considered the most durable pitcher in baseball……proof we arent tryin to win this yr,garza wanted to cme back but we let him go to a division rival for far less than most thought hed get.weve all been patient……….its time to start trying….

  • Tommy

    The Cubs could sign me at no risk for $5M.

  • Tommy

    I have to give you some credit, Brett: you are getting pretty good at predicting outcomes of free agent signings. Well done. Not where is Maholm going to end up?

  • RITZ

    So what is Jeff Samardzija worth if Hammel got $6M?

    • ClevelandCubsFan

      About $6 million since he’s not a free agent. If he were, probably $15 million.

      • Xruben31

        On the market? More than Garza, Jimenez and Santana

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