No, he’s not a top tier starting pitcher, and, no, he isn’t Masahiro Tanaka. But when it came to the starting pitching market and the Chicago Cubs’ current situation, there may not have been a pitcher I hoped the Cubs would sign more than Jason Hammel. Well, ok, other than Tanaka.
Hammel, 31, offers the perfect mix of upside and short-term commitment for what the 2014 Cubs reasonably need. As discussed before, there are reasons to believe Hammel could perform very well for the Cubs, which is, naturally, what everyone wants.
But the other thing Hammel wants?
“I don’t want to be that guy that’s ‘flipped,'” he told Patrick Mooney. Hammel’s excited to be on the Cubs, and he’s already enjoying fitting into the clubhouse. He’s not interested in thinking about the possibility of being traded in the future right now, and you can read more positive thoughts from Hammel in Mooney’s piece.
That said, when a guy has freshly signed with a new team, you wouldn’t expect – or want – him to feel any differently. I seem to recall that Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman said the same things when they were signed, and, ultimately, each was appreciative of their time with the Cubs, and didn’t seem too upset at being flipped.
But Hammel’s comments got me thinking: what are the scenarios that could lead to Hammel not being flipped?*
Here are some of the broad scenarios I came up with, in a rough descending order of desirability (and hopefully not also ascending order of likelihood):
(1.) The Cubs play so surprisingly well out of the gate, thanks in no small part to Hammel’s performance, that they can’t plausibly deal him in July. The playoffs follow, and the World Series, and a championship. And then we all wake up inside a snow globe.
(2.) Hammel pitches like a man possessed through July, posting legit Cy Young caliber numbers. The Cubs, however, are not competitive, and a trade still seems like the order of the day. Because of Hammel’s absurd dominance, however, the Cubs’ asking price is obscenely high, artificially-inflated by the knowledge that they wouldn’t hate keeping him in future seasons, and could always make him a qualifying offer after the season to pick up a draft pick if he departs. No team is willing to meet the Cubs’ high demands, and Hammel goes on to win the Cy Young on a last place team, with a 1.53 ERA, a 1.60 FIP, a 9:1 K/BB ratio, and a 2 and 25 record.
(3.) The market develops in such a way that, although it’s clear that Hammel has trade value, the Cubs believe his value sufficiently exceeds the offers they’re receiving by the Trade Deadline, and further believe that they’ll be able to make a better trade during the waiver period in August. But, then, to be consistent with Hammel’s desire not to be traded, it just doesn’t work out for whatever reason. Probably should have traded him in July, Cubs.
(4.) Hammel pitches adequately well to be a theoretical trade candidate, but the best teams in the league have disproportionately huge records, and there are very few bubble teams left by July 31. Further, with so many teams out of the race already, the market becomes overwhelmed with trade options that there are simply too many better options available to the three or four buyers (including maybe Jeff Samardzija – which reminds me, Cubs: if you’re intent on trading both guys, remember to do it like you did last year with Feldman and Matt Garza, and trade one of them early. Don’t want a 2012 situation where your own merchandise (Dempster/Garza) is competing with itself until it’s too late.).
(5.) Hammel pitches ineffectively and is not a desirable trade target. Nothing you can do about this one but kick some dirt.
(6.) Hammel’s past forearm/elbow issues pop up in the worst way possible, and he’s injured early in the year, taking him off of the market. I guess it wouldn’t have to be an arm thing. He could pull a hammy or fall victim to a classic piano drop scenario. Point is, an injured Hammel is not a flippable Hammel.
Did I miss any other categorial scenarios where Hammel is not flipped? Here’s hoping for Numbers 1 or 2.
*(That I actively had to think about a list of scenarios where he’s not flipped should suggest to you that, right now, the overwhelming odds are that he is flipped, assuming health and productivity. It’s not like we’re having to come up with a list of scenarios where he is flipped, because it’s pretty much, “Does he have value? Are the Cubs out of contention? Flipped.”)