When the Chicago Cubs struck out on signing Masahiro Tanaka last week (sorry for the bad pun), there were plenty of folks who worried about what it would mean for their starting rotation in the 2014 season.
On Friday afternoon, the Cubs took a step toward bolstering that rotation a bit, reportedly signing pitcher Jason Hammel to a contract. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports had the initial report:
Sources: #Cubs in agreement with free-agent RHP Jason Hammel, pending a physical.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 31, 2014
About an hour later, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com chimed in with the contract details on Hammel’s deal:
hammel gets $6M, plus $1M incentives, for 2014 deal. #cubs
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) January 31, 2014
In eight seasons in the majors, Hammel has started 158 games for the Rays, Rockies, and Orioles. He has a career ERA of 4.80 and a win-loss record of 49-59. Last season with the Orioles, the 31-year old hurler went 7-8 with a 4.97 ERA in 23 starts (26 appearances). He also had a 1.46 WHIP and gave up 22 home runs, which was a career high despite only pitching 139 1/3 innings.
There is reason for optimism for the Cubs despite the lackluster numbers that Hammel put up last year. Under the Epstein/Hoyer regime, the team has brought in several pitchers off the proverbial scrap heap, gotten decent production out of them, and then shipped them out of town for nice returns. First, it was Paul Maholm, who was sent to the Atlanta Braves along with Reed Johnson in 2012 in exchange for prospect Arodys Vizcaino. Before undergoing Tommy John surgery after the 2011 season, Vizcaino was one of the Braves’ top pitching prospects, and could very well find himself back among the hottest prospects in the game if he makes a full recovery.
The Cubs also pulled the trick off in 2013, signing Scott Feldman to a deal and then trading him away to the Orioles. In that deal, the Cubs not only got Jake Arrieta, but they also got Pedro Strop, who showed some serious promise out of the Cubs’ bullpen as the 2013 season wrapped up.
Feldman’s situation is perhaps most comparable to that of Hammel. In 2012 with the Rangers, Feldman had a 5.09 ERA and had a 1.38 WHIP. With the Cubs the next year, he trimmed that ERA down to 3.46, and his WHIP down to 1.14. You can blame that all you want on the fact that the National League is an easier league to pitch in, but differences that large seem to indicate that Epstein and Hoyer know when to buy low.
Are we postulating that Hammel will have similar success with the Cubs just because Feldman and Maholm did before they were traded? Certainly not, but it is worth keeping in mind if people are going to scoff at the notion of the Cubs acquiring players like Hammel.