For the second straight start against a quality Nationals lineup, Jason Hammel pitched exceedingly well. That’s really, really hard to do, but that’s been Jason Hammel this season. He’s just been so very good.*
Not only has Hammel avoided having any real stinkers, he’s posted a 2.98 ERA, a 3.16 FIP, and a 3.23 xFIP over 108.2 innings of work. In those innings, he’s struck out nearly a batter per inning – 104 – and walked just 23 guys.
And, after showing it off again earlier today, teams have to be lining up to get the guy that might be the most attractive total package pitcher on the market, when you consider that he’ll cost just about $3 million for the rest of the season, and nothing more. To some teams, that’s exactly what they’re looking for. And, although the Cubs are doing some winning these days, I still think they’ll be dealing Hammel this month. Sustaining competitiveness over the rest of the season is unlikely, and Hammel has some really nice value that the Cubs could capture. (And, hey, you never know, he could come back after the season.) No, Hammel isn’t going to net a franchise-altering return, but he does look to have more value today than either of Scott Feldman, Paul Maholm, or Ryan Dempster had when they were dealt at the deadline in recent years. Those deals netted some very nice pieces.
Gordon Wittenmyer says he hears that a deal on Hammel is still likely to come sooner rather than later, which still makes sense to me, given the Cubs’ presumed desire to split up Hammel and Jeff Samardzija on the trade market so that they aren’t competing with each other.
(That said, having started today, Hammel would be able to pitch only once for his new team before the All-Star break if he were traded in the next few days. Thus, perhaps the urgency to get a deal done right now might not be as strong as it would have been yesterday. Of course, as I say, waiting until after the All-Star break to deal Hammel risks leaving the Cubs trying to get maximum value for both Hammel and Samardzija at the same time, which can be difficult, because teams will bid them off of each other to get the best deal for themselves.)
Potentially related to the Cubs’ efforts to get maximum value for Hammel, the Yankees could be without CC Sabathia even longer than expected. The big lefty – who has been in decline regardless of the injury to his knee – suffered a setback in his rehab, and now has no timetable for a return (UPDATE: Make that he’s probably done for the season). The Yankees were hard up for a starting pitcher before this news, but had hoped that Sabathia would return at the All-Star break, which would have at least given them some negotiating leverage in trade talks.
As it stands, there may not be a starting-pitching-needier team in all of baseball than the Yankees, who’ve been connected to Hammel many times. While the Yankees don’t have the ammo to get someone like Jeff Samardzija from the Cubs, they may have the pieces to get someone like Hammel. Given how badly their top prospects have fallen off this year, the Yankees would likely have to start an offer either with top catching prospect Gary Sanchez, or one of their top picks from last year’s draft. The pitcher you’d want, if you went that route, is probably righty Luis Severino, a 20-year-old who’s flying up the charts this year with some dominant performances in the low minors.
I won’t pretend to cobble together the specifics of a deal, but it is fair to say that, while the Yankees probably do have the pieces to get Hammel, there may still be better offers out there for the Cubs (especially given Hammel’s consistent year and continued success).
*And he wants to compete, too. Today, after a leadoff double in the 7th, Hammel was pulled at 92 pitches. In post-game comments, he said he wanted to stay out there (Tribune video), and implied that he thinks he’s being protected a bit by someone other than the manager (Mark Gonzalez Twitter). I love that kind of fight in a pitcher, obviously, but I also … well … I approve of the Cubs playing it safe with Hammel (if that’s what they were doing). It’s just smart at this point in the year. A deal could be close at any time, and the last thing the Cubs want to see happen is being burned by any kind of injury or questions of over-work.