A Little More on the Jason Hammel Signing: Injury Risk, Flip Value, Bullpen Option

jason hammel oriolesWhile we await official word that the Chicago Cubs have signed pitcher Jason Hammel to a reported one-year, $6 million deal with another $1 million possible in incentives, there are a handful of relevant bits to discuss …

  • We’ve gone over the performance risks associated with Hammel – good years in 2009, 2010, and 2012, mixed with a down 2013 and a stinker in 2011 – but are there also health risks? Buster Olney says some teams were concerned about what they perceived to be a “heightened risk of an elbow injury”with Hammel. There were a ton of teams in on Hammel, and the Cubs reportedly got him on a deal that is perceived to be a good value. At the outset of the offseason, Olney said Hammel was looking for a three to four-year deal, so maybe there’s something to the injury concerns?
  • Well, Hammel did miss time in 2013 with flexor mass tightness, and that’s a bundle of muscles in the forearm intimately associated with the elbow (and its precious ligaments and nerves). Nervousness, going forward, is understandable. Hammel came back from that injury, however, after rest and a cortisone injection (with an MRI and a Dr. James Andrews review mixed in). Presumably, he’s got a clean bill of health right now, but I suppose it’s fair to say he’s got a slightly higher risk profile than a starter who didn’t have a forearm injury the prior year. (Worth noting: he says he started feeling it in Spring Training last year, which could be a partial explanation for his down 2013 season. It’s also probably additional cause for concern, however slight.)
  • Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs makes the easy comparison between the Hammel signing and last year’s nearly-identical one-year deal for Scott Feldman. From Sullivan’s take, you get the sense that, unlike with Feldman, where ability to translate stuff into performance was the primary risk, staying healthy (and pitching healthy) is the primary risk with Hammel. It seems likely that, if he’s getting no trouble from his arm, he can be very effective. Some of the superlatives in Sullivan’s piece are striking. (Example: “And in 2012, when Hammel was healthy, he was among the very best starters in baseball. Though he wasn’t throwing eight or nine innings every turn, he matched Doug Fister in ERA-, David Price in FIP-, and Adam Wainwright in xFIP-. Hammel was probably the best starter on an Orioles team that played in October.”)
  • As for Hammel’s role with the Cubs, I think it’s worth pointing out that, yes, he is quite clearly being signed to be a starting pitcher (raising the possibility of a flip at the deadline), but should five other starters prove simply too valuable/good to not start, Hammel could be shifted to the bullpen for a time. Hammel pitched in the pen early in his career, then for a bit in Colorado, and then just a tiny bit last year with the Orioles. He’s not quite a classic “swing” guy, but it would seem he could fulfill that role if necessary.
  • Under what circumstances would that be necessary? Well, keep in mind: even if we all agree that 2014 is a throwaway year, and we agree that flipping short-term assets for longer term pieces is an acceptable use of that throwaway year, there are conceivable benefits of using someone else in the rotation for a long-term benefit. For example, say Justin Grimm shows promise as a starter, but there isn’t a spot for him unless Hammel is bounced. Might giving Grimm a chance to become a quality middle-to-back-of-the-rotation candidate for the long-term be just as valuable as the small chance that Hammel pitches well and is flipped for something that has value in July?
  • That said … I think it’s a mortal lock that Hammel, if healthy, starts the year in the rotation and is not moved out until he is traded or proves inexplicably ineffective. I don’t think the latter is likely. As I’ve said, I’m optimistic that Hammel could be a nice back-of-the-rotation piece for the Cubs in the first half (and another team in the second half). If it plays out that way, everybody wins.

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

43 responses to “A Little More on the Jason Hammel Signing: Injury Risk, Flip Value, Bullpen Option”

  1. NorthSideIrish

    Have the Cubs made a corresponding move to clear a spot on the 40 man?

  2. Cubsin

    Let’s just say I won’t be staying up late worrying if all of Shark, Wood, Jackson, Hammels, Arrieta and Grimm are pitching well in Spring Training. I’ll be worrying a lot more if several of them look like crap.

    1. Jason P

      It’s probably not worth getting worked up about Spring training statistics either way.

  3. Dylan

    Hi Brett (Luke can pitch in if he wants too),

    Let’s say Hammell has a reasonable first half. Nothing too flashy but consistent enough to be flippable, what type of players/prospects do you think the Cubs can manage to get in return?

    1. BWA

      I’d say the comparison to Feldman holds true here as well. The Cubs got two high risk high reward young MLB caliber pitchers for Feldman, though they were both struggling at the time. For Hammel, I’d think they could do similar or get something like an 8-15 organizational prospect plus another low level high upside type player.

      1. Bric

        6 mil is awfully pricey for the hopes of a low A high upside guy in a flip. if that’s the reasoning why not just go out and hire 5 better scouts at a mil a piece? Provide a little more stability and confidence in an organization. 3 years is plenty of time to start making a plan past high and Double A. If you’re going to spend the money, spend it wisely. I’m not against this signing at all- I just hope the purpose is to add a quality pitcher, not look for more low A prospects.

        1. Kyle

          Well, first of all, you could probably by 50 scouts for that price with room to spare.

          1. Eternal Pessimist

            …and those million dollar scouts would have just told you to sign Hammel for the $6 million anyway.

  4. Blackhawks1963

    There was clearly concern in the market that Hammel is damaged goods. A lot of reports suggest his elbow is dicey. Cubs are rolling the dice…this might end up okay, or it might end up as Scott Baker Version 2.0.

    1. Jon

      I know you traditionally, you don’t like to do this type of thing, but if you had to put a % on it either way, what would it be?

      1. cubsfan08

        Haha!!

        100% chance his arm falls off, otherwise he would have signed in New York or LA

    2. Featherstone

      Yeah the health concerns definitely drove his price down and he certainly could be Scott Baker 2.0, but he could also turn out to be another Scott Feldman or Paul Maholm both of which brought back some valuable assets. The risk of this deal is very real, but it’s still a good risk to take in a year we can afford to take it. I’m happy with the signing.

  5. When The Musics Over

    Baseball Prospectus had a somewhat surprisingly positive write-up on the Reds farm system today. Said it could be a top 10 system by 2015.

    Relying on your farm system to take you from last to first in this division is nasty business.

  6. MightyBear

    I don’t agree that 2014 is a throw away year.

    1. D-Rock

      Well, then buckle your seat belt and get ready for a wake up call…It could be real ugly this year for the Cubbies.

    2. Edwin

      Respectively, how is it not? The Cubs have some of the worst playoff odds this year of any team in baseball. Other than following individual performance, there’s not much going for this team.

      1. Jon

        I think the lamentation for many is that we have made this calculated, selective choice to be horrible in 2014, vs 2012 where you could argue that it was unavoidable to be horrible.

        1. CubFan Paul

          +1

          1. Xruben31

            This year is far from “just another throw away year” it’s a complete developmental year. Castro, Rizzo, Shark, Wood Arrietta, E-Jax, Olt, Castillo, Lake, Barney, Strop, Russel, Grimm are all in need of further development to take a step further at the major league level. Then when guys like Baez, Hendricks, Alcantra, Vitters, maybe Bryant, Sczur, Neil Ramirez and more come up they’re going to need plenty of of developmental time.

      2. Big City Mick

        I give it to Theo, he’s chosen the best shade of lipstick to slap on this pig in that, he shouldn’t get any grief from Selig for not spending money. Also, there wasn’t a ton of mid-season flip candidates that were willing to sign the 1-year prove-it type contract. This season is going to be horrible from a W-L standpoint but it’s what needs to be done. We need to know what we have in Lake, Olt, Vitters, Barney, Watkins, Valbuena, B-Jackson, Sczur, etc. so we can start pruning the 40-man for the first wave of prospects and next offseason’s top FA’s.

    3. Patrick W.

      Maybe it’s just a matter of semantics. You can’t really judge a year as a throwaway year until the season is over. Last year, for example, saw some fundamental changes that are being planned on for future success. This season we could see 1-2 prospects make their major league debuts, and Rizzo and Castro will probably give us enough to know who they are as major-league players. Some valuable things will happen this season.

      Winning more games than lost is pretty fairly not going to happen.

      1. Fishin Phil

        I think we should at least wait until after it starts. SMH

      2. Edwin

        When people say “throw away year” they typcially mean a year in which playoff odds are so low that it’s a virtual lock that the team won’t make the playoffs. There might be interesting individual performances or trades, but that’s not what people are normally talking about with “throw away”.

        1. Patrick W.

          No that’s what you are talking about.

  7. CubChymyst

    Szymborski ran Hammels ZiPs for the Cubs: 7-7, 4.01 ERA, 97 ERA+, 1.6 WAR in 134.2 IP.

    1. ClevelandCubsFan

      I’d take that.

  8. Diehardthefirst

    Disappointed Cubs didn’t give Farnsworth a tryout- Mets did

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.