The addition of veteran right-handed pitcher Jason Hammel to a one-year, $6 million contract should allow the Chicago Cubs to slot their pitchers in positions of strength and provide the Cubs with additional depth and roster flexibility to make trades before or during the 2014 season.
Hammel enjoys a five-pitch arsenal which includes 92 to 95 mph four- and two-seam fastballs, a mid 80’s slider, an upper 70’s curveball and a high 80’s changeup. Though he broke into the league with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2006, he has been in Colorado’s (2009-11) and Baltimore’s (2012-13) rotations during the past five seasons. In 215 career games (158) starts, Hammel has produced a 49-59 record, 4.80 ERA and 1.440 WHIP.
However, those numbers have undoubtedly been skewed by Hammel having pitched the majority of his career in Colorado and Baltimore. Colorado’s Coors Field ranked first, first and second in the three years he pitched for the Rockies in terms of ballpark offensive production yield; and Camden Yard in Baltimore ranked fifth and tenth the two years he pitched there. Contrary to the popular perception of Wrigley Field as being exclusively a hitter’s paradise, the park has ranked as both pitcher and hitter friendly in offensive-yield statistics the last ten years.
On the road, Hamel has been markedly better. In 112 games, including 82 starts, Hammel is 30-33 with an 4.58 ERA and 1.416 WHIP. Also of significance is that Hammel’s numbers as a relief pitcher have been marginally better than as a starter. In 57 games as a reliever, he has compiled a 3-3 record, 4.04 ERA and 1.473 WHIP.
Given Hamel’s career production, how can his addition likely strengthen the Cubs this upcoming season?
1) Roles on the pitching staff should be more defined heading into Spring Training. Prior to Hammel’s signing, there was, according to reports, going to be a three-way competition for the fifth spot in the Cubs’ rotation behind RH Jeff Samardjiza, LH Travis Wood, RH Edwin Jackson and RH Jake Arrieta. The candidates for the fifth spot were reportedly going to be LH Chris Rusin and RH’s Justin Grimm and Carlos Villanueva.
However, both Villanueva and Grimm have proven far more adept at pitching out of the bullpen. In 71 games as a starter, Villanueva, 30, is 17-29 with a 4.73 ERA and 1.341 WHIP. In 277 games as a reliever, he has produced a 23-14 record with a 3.81 ERA and 1.220 WHIP.
Grimm, 25, has nineteen career starts, all with the Texas Rangers, from whom the Cubs acquired him last July. His record of 8-8 is supported by an ERA of 6.75 and WHIP of 1.688. In thirteen games as a reliever, Grimm has a 3.94 ERA and 1.063 WHIP. Further, in a late season audition with the Cubs, Grimm pitched nine innings and produced a 2.00 ERA and exceptional 0.778 WHIP.
By adding Hammel, the Cubs should be able to avoid a saturated and bloated competition for the fifth starter’s position and allow Villanueva and Grimm to immediately focus on their positions of strength, relief pitching.
2) The loser of the two-way competition between Rusin and Hammel will remain in the Cubs’ 2014 plans. Rusin is coming off an impressive second season with the Cubs after a disastrous debut in 2012. In thirteen starts, Rusin, 27, produced an ERA of 3.93 and respectable WHIP of 1.357. Rusin has two minor league options remaining that the Cubs could employ if Hammel wins the competition. Obviously, no team has ever relied on just its 25-man roster during the course of a 162-game season and rarely employs only five starters. Injuries, trades and poor performance make that a virtual certainty.
Conversely, if Rusin wins the competition, Hammel, can pitch in the bullpen, where, as we noted above, he has been successful. In fact, he profiles as the kind of power arm Cubs’ management desires in its relief pitchers.
Finally, if Jake Arrieta, on whom the Cubs have one minor league option remaining (although it would require his consent), pitches poorly and both Hammel and Rusin pitch exceptionally well in Spring Training, both of them could make the rotation and Arrieta could be returned to AAA.
3) Hammel’s addition gives the Cubs flexibility to trade Samardjiza and/or to use Hammel as a trade flip near the deadline. The Cubs appear to be at a crossroads in their efforts to extend the contract of Samardjiza, who will be a free agent following the 2015 season. Obviously a pitcher two seasons from free agency has greater trade value than one only a year from free agency or pitching in his free agency season. Thus, the Cubs are highly likely to trade Samardjiza if they cannot reach an accord with him by the trade deadline, if not by Spring Training.
Hammel provides depth to the rotation in the event that Samardjiza is dealt.
Samardjiza’s contractual issue aside, the Theo Epstein regime has flipped veteran pitchers the last two seasons to bolster their minor league system. Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman and Matt Garza have been the trade bait.
Only the Cubs’ brass knows what the parameters are for a mid-season selloff. If the team is flirting with .500 but not in contention, would the Epstein regime stay the course? Or instead conduct another sell-off? If management decides to use their veteran assets to fetch another booty of propects, Jason Hammel could be an ideal candidate to advance that objective.
His addition could establish more defined roles for the Cubs’ pitching staff and also provide Cubs’ management with flexibility to make roster moves now and during the season.Powered by Sidelines Follow paulmbanks