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December 9, 2014

Transaction Analysis

Hammel Back

by Sahadev Sharma and Mauricio Rubio

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CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Reportedly sign RHP Jason Hammel to a two-year deal worth $20 million, with a third-year club option. [12/8]

Cubs fans are still waiting for Theo Epstein to wade into the deep end of free agency, but while the Wrigley faithful sweat out Jon Lester’s decision, Epstein and company remain intent on improving their roster. The addition of Jason Hammel does just that, and, at the reported two years and essentially $20 million, he comes at a great price.

When meeting with season ticket holders earlier this offseason, Epstein made it clear what his goals were over the next few months in terms of improving the rotation:

“We need impact starting pitching,” Epstein said. “If you can add a top-of-the-rotation starter to what we have with (Jake) Arrieta, et al, it becomes really, really interesting in a hurry. We also could use just another quality, stable arm to go with it. So in an ideal world, we’d add two starting pitchers.”

So for anyone who took this signing as some sort of fallback option in case the Cubs don’t land Lester, that certainly isn’t the case. Behind Arrieta, the Cubs have plenty of holes to fill in their staff and Hammel fits in nicely in one of those spots.

Hammel signed with the Cubs last offseason on a one-year, $6-million deal and was flipped to the A’s as part of the Jeff Samardzija-Addison Russell trade. A year prior to that, the Cubs signed Scott Feldman to a similar deal, and Feldman parlayed a strong season split between the Cubs and Orioles into a three-year, $30 million deal. Earlier in the offseason, it seemed that Feldman’s deal with the Astros would be a starting point for Hammel, both in terms of years and money. The fact that Hammel ended up signing for fewer guaranteed years and, if the option is picked up, at a lower AAV than Feldman, makes it feel like a bit of a deal for the Cubs.

Year

IP

ERA

K%

BB%

Hammel

2014

176 1/3

3.47

22.1

6.2

Feldman

2013

181 2/3

3.86

17.4

7.4

Both pitchers had strong years heading into free agency, but Hammel’s peripherals stand out. However, there are two things that give one pause with Hammel. The first regards his knees. Hammel remained healthy throughout the 2014 season, but in the previous two seasons he suffered through nagging right knee problems, and when he wasn’t missing starts, he was struggling on the mound.

Questions also arise from Hammel’s second half of the season with Oakland. He was one of the better pitchers in the Senior Circuit during his time with the Cubs, but he struggled mightily when he headed to the AL, especially early on. In his first four starts with the Athletics, Hammel tossed just 17 innings, and posted a 9.53 ERA and 1.045 OPS against. It was nothing short of a disaster for the veteran righty.

Hammel then finished the season on a strong run, posting a 2.49 ERA in his final 50 2/3 innings pitched. Was it an adjustment period to a new ballpark and a return to the AL? Just a rough stretch? That he was able to bounce back and give the Athletics five quality starts in his final seven certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. Neither should the fact that the Cubs are very familiar with Hammel, both in terms of his health and his ability to deliver positive results on the field.

During his brief stint in Chicago, Hammel and Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio developed a nice rapport. Hammel enjoyed one of the best stretches of his career under Bosio’s watchful eye, and Bosio bragged in the spring that the Cubs were "unleashing" something special when Hammel was nearing his first start. During the spring and multiple times throughout the season, Hammel expressed a desire to remain with the Cubs, despite it being well known, even by Hammel himself, that he’d likely be flipped near the deadline.

Apparently Hammel’s fondness for Chicago and the Cubs wasn’t just lip service. —Sahadev Sharma

Fantasy Impact

In 2014, Jason Hammel the Cub was a tremendous revelation, posting a nifty 4.5 K:BB ratio while suppressing hits. Jason Hammel the A lost strikeouts, gained walks, allowed more hits and home runs. Hammel is a Cub again, which improves his fantasy stock for a few reasons, not the least of which is a move back to the NL and to be reunited with pitchers in the ninth spot. It’s unlikely he repeats the 24.2 K percentage he posted with the Cubs or maintains a .219 opponents average. But he still has value as an SP3/4 in mixed leagues, and he’s an absolute must-own in NL-Only. —Mauricio Rubio

Sahadev Sharma is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sahadev's other articles. You can contact Sahadev by clicking here
Mauricio Rubio is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mauricio's other articles. You can contact Mauricio by clicking here

Related Content:  Chicago Cubs,  Transactions

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