Scouting the Free Agent Market: Jason Hammel

(Dustin Bradford/Getty)
(Dustin Bradford/Getty)

According to Brian Cashman, the Yankees went into this offseason looking for “pitching, pitching, pitching,” and so far they’ve (re-)signed Aroldis Chapman. And that’s it. Unless you count claiming Joe Mantiply off waivers and signing Jason Gurka to a minor league deal. The rotation has been untouched and Chapman has been the only bullpen upgrade.

Of course, this free agent class was very thin on pitching, so it’s not like the Yankees have sat idle while a bunch of potential aces came off the board. Rich Hill, who was in independent ball 18 months ago, was the top starter on the market. Ivan Nova was arguably the second best option. Yeah. This was not a good offseason to need pitching, that’s for sure. Free agency is thin and trade prices are sky high.

The best free agent starter still on the board right now is veteran righty Jason Hammel, who spent the last two years with the Cubs and became a free agent when the team declined his $12M option. They had to pay him a $2M buyout, so it was essentially a $10M decision. The Cubs reportedly left it up to Hammel, and decided to test the market. Does he make sense for the Yankees? Let’s look.

Recent Performance

Over the last three seasons the 34-year-old Hammel has been a boringly reliable middle of the rotation pitcher. He’s threw no more than 176.1 innings and no fewer than 166.2 innings in each of those three seasons, and during that time he has a 3.68 ERA (4.02 FIP). Like I said, boringly reliable.

The 2016 season was Hammel’s worst in seven years in terms of strikeout (20.8%), walk (7.7%), and home run (1.35 HR/9) rates. Homers were up around the league and Hammel wasn’t too far off from his career 1.13 HR/9, so maybe we can give him a mulligan there. Here are the last three years:

jason-hammel-rates

Not great, not awful, no alarming spikes. Hammel’s strikeout and walk numbers were indeed his worst in several years last season, but they weren’t that far off from his 2014-15 numbers either. Consistency is boring.

One aspect of Hammel’s performance that can not be ignored is his tendency to fade in the second half. It’s happened three years in a row now. Last season Hammel failed to complete four innings in three of his final seven starts, and he allowed 35 runs in his final 32.1 innings of the season. Egads. Look at this:

jason-hammel-era

Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend. Hammel is not a 200-inning workhorse. He’s essentially a 170-inning pitcher who is most effective during the first 140 innings. Things get dicey after that. As long as his next employer is aware of that and acts accordingly — use off-days to skip a start now and then, things like that — it’s not a huge problem.

Current Stuff

Hammel has gone through several transformations since his time with the Devils Rays way back when. He’s gone from four-seamer/curveball pitcher to sinker/slider pitcher to four-seamer/sinker/slider pitcher. Hammel still throws the curveball now and then, and every once in a while he’ll toss a changeup, but for the most part he’s a three-pitch pitcher these days. The 2016 numbers:

  • Four-seamer: 9.1% whiffs and 29.2% grounders (MLB averages: 6.9% and 37.9%)
  • Sinker: 2.8% whiffs and 58.8% grounders (MLB averages: 5.4% and 49.5%)
  • Slider: 17.5% whiffs and 42.2% grounders (MLB averages: 15.2% and 43.9%)

Hammel does not have a dominant pitch. He was able to get a good amount of ground balls with his sinker a year ago, and the slider was probably his best pitch overall considering it was basically average at getting both swings and misses and grounders. Because his changeup is close to a non-factor, lefties (.344 wOBA) had more success against Hammel than righties (.292 wOBA) last year. Here’s some video:

Like I said earlier, boringly reliable. Hammel won’t be appointment television. He’s not very exciting, but he is generally effective.

Injury History

The Cubs did not carry Hammel on their postseason roster — I’m not sure he would have been on the playoff roster anyway given Chicago’s other options — because elbow tightness ended his season in late-September. He also missed most of August with forearm tendinitis. That’s not good. Forearm trouble is a common precursor to elbow trouble. By all accounts though, Hammel’s elbow is structurally sound and he’ll be ready in time for Spring Training.

The recent forearm and elbow woes are the first time Hammel has had arm trouble in his big league career. He missed a month with a groin strain back in 2010 (who cares) and about two months total following right knee surgery in 2012. Hammel had surgery to repair cartilage damage, returned in six weeks, then felt renewed soreness and missed another two weeks. The knee has been problem free ever since.

Injuries have not been a problem throughout Hammel’s career. And it means basically nothing. Hammel finished the season hurt, with an arm problem no less, and it can be considered a recurring injury. He had forearm trouble in August and then elbow trouble in September. That’s scary and certainly a reason he remains unsigned in January. Forget that he’s been healthy most of his career. He finished the year hurt and that’s the most recent information.

Contract Estimates

(Jon Durr/Getty)
(Jon Durr/Getty)

Once Jeremy Hellickson accepted the qualifying offer, Hammel was no worse than the third best starter on the free agent market. He seemed poised to cash in big as a free agent, and he still might, but so far things have been quiet. Here are some contract estimates:

It sure seems like Hammel won’t be getting a three-year contract this offseason. I’m guessing he’d jump all over a three-year offer at this point. Recent reports indicate Hammel has received nothing more than one-years contract offers this winter, which is telling. Teams must be afraid of that elbow.

Hammel lost $10M when the Cubs declined his option. He and his agent — Hammel changed representatives earlier this winter because his market was not developing — are probably looking to at least recoup that $10M, so does that mean the floor is a one-year deal worth $10M? Possibly. I’m taking a shot in the dark here.

Does He Fit The Yankees?

Yes because he’s a veteran starting pitcher who has been pretty good in recent years and won’t cost an arm and a leg. There is no such thing as too much pitching depth. The Yankees will appreciate having an extra veteran starter around whenever the kids inevitably hit a bump in the road all at once. You know it’s coming.

That yes comes with several caveats though. For starters, there’s the whole elbow thing. That’s kind of a big deal. Secondly, home runs have always been an issue for Hammel and Yankee Stadium will only exacerbate that. And third, Hammel won’t be playing in front of the Cubs’ historically great defense anymore. The Yankees have a solid team defense, much better than in previous years, but it’s not on par with Chicago’s.

Last year Hammel had a 3.83 ERA (4.48 FIP) with the Cubs. Again: boringly reliable. Move him to Yankee Stadium (and the other hitter friendly AL East parks) in the DH league and it might be a 4.50 ERA (5.00 FIP) in 2017. That kinda stinks, doesn’t it? I’m just spitballing though. Who knows what’ll happen next year. Point is, there are several reasons to believe Hammel’s performance is about to take a turn for the worst.

Still, it’s not like Hammel would be blocking a young pitcher. This isn’t like signing Mike Napoli and sending Greg Bird to Triple-A. Signing Hammel to the cheap one-year contract he appears destined to sign would be a worthwhile move for the pitching needy Yankees, even with the elbow red flags. (It ain’t my money!) It’s just a question of whether Hammel is willing to pitch in such a hitter friendly park. Yankee Stadium isn’t a good place to rebuild value.

Hot Stove Notes: Beltran, Hammel, Holland, Headley

(Greg Fiume/Getty)
(Greg Fiume/Getty)

For the first time since 2013, the Yankees have made it to November 17th without making a trade or free agent signing. Last winter they made the John Ryan MurphyAaron Hicks trade on November 11th, and the year before they re-signed Chris Young on November 9th and made the Francisco CervelliJustin Wilson trade on November 12th. So far this year all we have is a Joe Mantiply waiver claim. Lame. Here’s the latest hot stove buzz.

Yankees among teams most interested in Beltran

According to Rob Bradford, the Yankees are among the most interested teams in free agent Carlos Beltran. The Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Astros are also in the mix. There are no shortage of DH bats available this winter. Beltran is part of a group that includes Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo, Mike Napoli, and others. We could include Jose Bautista here too. Kendrys Morales was in that group before signing a three-year deal with the Blue Jays last week.

Beltran had a very productive season for the Yankees before being traded to the Rangers, where he was just okay. You could do a heck of a lot worse than signing Carlos to be your short-term DH, which is something the Yankees will probably need should Brian McCann get traded away. That said, after seeing Alfonso Soriano and Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez go from very productive to toast in an offseason in their late-30s, bringing Beltran back makes me a little nervous.

Yankees have contacted Hammel

As part of their search for “pitching, pitching, pitching,” the Yankees have already reached out to free agent right-hander Jason Hammel, according to George King. Hammel became a free agent last week when the Cubs surprisingly declined his $12M club option. They had to pay him a $2M buyout anyway, so it was a $10M decision. Apparently the Cubs threw Hammel a bone and let him decide whether he wanted to come back, and he instead opted for free agency, because he’s not a moron.

Anyway, the 34-year-old Hammel had a 3.83 ERA (4.48 FIP) in 166.2 innings this past season, and over the last few years he’s worn down and been close to a non-factor in September. He’s more of a 150-inning guy than a 180-inning guy. Hammel has been very homer prone the last few years (1.28 HR/9 since 2013) and I can’t imagine moving into Yankee Stadium will help matters. Still, he’s one of the best free agent starters on the market, so the Yankees are smart to check in. It never hurts to see what a guy wants.

Yankees have shown early interest in D. Holland

The Yankees, along with the Pirates and Padres, have shown early interest in free agent lefty Derek Holland, reports Jeff Wilson. The Rangers tried to trade Holland earlier this offseason, but after finding no takers, they decided to decline his $11.5M option and instead pay him a $1M buyout. It’s entirely possible Holland is the second best left-handed starter in free agency behind Rich Hill. It’s either him or Brett Anderson. Egads.

The lefty Holland. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
The lefty Holland. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Holland had a 4.95 ERA (4.75 FIP) in 107.1 innings last season. He’s been limited to only 203 innings the last three years due to all sorts of injuries, including knee and shoulder trouble. Holland has five pitches (four-seamer, sinker, slider, curveball, changeup) and PitchFX clocked him in the 92-94 mph range this year, so the 30-year-old still may have something to offer. Would he take a one-year contract to rebuild value in Yankee Stadium? Maybe! But the odds (and common sense) are against it.

Yankees have contacted Boras about G. Holland

Now for the other Holland. According to George King, the Yankees have contacted agent Scott Boras about free agent Greg Holland, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery. Holland threw for scouts last week and the Yankees were among the many teams in attendance. “Over 20 teams (have called). Most teams are doing their due diligence,” said Boras.

Holland, 30, had his elbow rebuilt in September 2015, so he’s 14 months out from surgery. Reports indicate he was 91-92 mph during his workout last week, down considerably from his peak, but I don’t think that’s alarming. He’s still rebuilding arm strength. His health is obviously most important, but after that you’re looking at his mechanics and the effort in his delivery. A free and easy 91-92 is much different than max effort 91-92. I can’t help but think Holland is going to wind up with whatever team offers him their closer’s job right away.

Yankees open to moving Headley

In addition to McCann and Brett Gardner, the Yankees are also open to moving Chase Headley, reports Ken Rosenthal. This isn’t surprising. The Yankees reportedly made Headley (and Jacoby Ellsbury) available at the trade deadline. It only makes sense to put him out there again now. The free agent third base market is Justin Turner, Luis Valbuena coming off hamstring surgery, and nothing else. There are few quality hot corner options available.

The Yankees have outfield replacements for Gardner and Ellsbury, and they’ve already replaced McCann behind the plate, but they’d have to go out and add a third baseman should they trade Headley. That’s not insignificant. I love Ronald Torreyes as much as the next guy, but giving him 500+ plate appearances seems like bad news. That isn’t to say the Yankees should hold on to Headley because they lack a third base replacement. By all means, see what the market offers. It just means this is a two-step process. Trade Headley, then find a replacement.

2014 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Monday

2014 Winter Meetings-002

Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings begin today in San Diego. They technically last four days but it’s really more like three and a half — everyone leaves after the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning. The Yankees took care of two important pieces of offseason business on Friday by acquiring Didi Gregorius and signing Andrew Miller, but they still need more pitching and another infielder wouldn’t hurt either. They needed pitching even before trading Shane Greene to get Gregorius.

“The winter’s a long winter. So even if I felt one thing today, it doesn’t mean it’s the same thing tomorrow. I think we legitimately have to walk through and consider all avenues. Some might be more realistic than others, but there’s certain things that can impact us, and we can change our course of action that we weren’t necessarily pursuing early,” said Brian Cashman to Ken Davidoff last week. “We as an organization are open to trying to address the obvious needs. If those efforts prove naught in some cases and I can’t get anywhere with it, then we might be open to considering other aspects, to significantly improving certain areas and wait on the other areas over time to develop.”

The next four days will be the busiest of the offseason in terms of rumors and signings and trades. The Yankees will surely be involved to some degree — even if they don’t make a move this week, expected them to be connected to a lot of players. Most of the top free agent hitters are off the board but all of the top free agent pitchers remain unsigned, so it’s a good time to need pitching like the Bombers. We’re going to keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so talk about all of them here and make sure you check back often. All timestamps are ET.

  • 8:53pm: There is “no real evidence” the Yankees are in on Jon Lester. If they do go big for a starter, they prefer Max Scherzer. That sure sounds like posturing, doesn’t it? [Jon Heyman]
  • 7:07pm: “Don’t count out the Yankees with Jon Lester,” said one front office person. Lester is supposedly down to the Cubs and Giants, barring a last minute change of heart. Developing! [Jerry Crasnick & Ken Rosenthal]
  • 4:26pm: The Yankees have talked to the Braves about Craig Kimbrel, the Marlins about Steve Cishek, and the Royals about both Wade Davis and Greg Holland. There’s no match with Kansas City though because they want rotation help in return. [George King]
  • 1:45pm: The Giants would likely be out on Chase Headley if the Yankees are willing to offer him $11M to $12M annually on a four-year deal. Man, getting Headley at four years and $44M or so would be awesome. [Jerry Crasnick]
  • 12:19pm: The Yankees are willing to go four years for Chase Headley and David Robertson. As with Andrew Miller, they’ll tack on the fourth year in exchange for a lower annual salary. There is “growing hope in the organization” that Headley will return. [Andrew Marchand & Buster Olney]
  • 11:10am: Jason Hammel, who the Yankees had some interest in earlier this offseason, is returning to the Cubs. It’s a two-year contract worth $18M with a club option. That’s one pitching option off the board. [Jon Heyman & Chris Cotillo]
  • 10:00am: The Yankees recently met with Chase Headley‘s representatives to reiterate their interest in re-signing him. Headley has “suggested to some” that returning to New York is his top choice. A week or two ago we heard the Yankees wouldn’t offer him more than three years and that Headley has a four-year, $64M offer in hand. [Jon Heyman]
  • The Yankees do not have interest in Padres right-handers Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and Tyson Ross. They aren’t convinced the trio is really available. Cashner and Kennedy will be free agents next offseason while Ross is under team control through 2017. [Andy Martino]
  • Before they acquired Gregorius, the Yankees called the Cubs and asked about Starlin Castro. Chicago said he wasn’t available. The Yankees made several trade offers for shortstops earlier this winter. [Jon Heyman]

Heyman: Yankees targeting McCarthy, Capuano, Hammel

Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees are currently focusing on Brandon McCarthy, Chris Capuano, and Jason Hammel as they look to upgrade their rotation heading into next season. Heyman reiterates the club is unlikely to pursue Jon Lester or Max Scherzer.

McCarthy and Capuano were with the Yankees this past season, so we’re all already familiar with them. The 32-year-old Hammel had a 3.47 ERA (3.92 FIP) in 176.1 innings with the Cubs and Athletics in 2014, though he was great in Chicago (2.98 ERA and 3.09 FIP) and not good in Oakland (4.26 ERA and 5.10 FIP). He signed a one-year deal worth $6M with the Cubs last year and is probably looking at a similar deal this winter. Meh.

Scouting The August Trade Market: Salary Dump Starters

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

The Yankees were unable to land pitching help before last Thursday’s trade deadline but that doesn’t mean they are out of the market for arms. David Phelps just landed on the disabled list and the team is somehow more desperate for pitching now than at any other point in the season, and that’s with Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka seemingly on the mend. At best, Pineda is about ten days away while Tanaka could return next month.

The August trade season has been surprisingly active the last few years. Just last year guys like Justin Morneau, Alex Rios, Marlon Byrd, and David DeJesus were dealt in August. The Dodgers-Red Sox blockbuster went down in August two years ago. The Yankees themselves haven’t been all that active on the August trade front the last few years — they acquired Chad Gaudin in August 2009, but their only August trade since was the Steve Pearce pickup a few years ago — but that hardly means they’re against August moves. That’s just the way things shook out.

The Phillies got the August trade market going yesterday by putting just about everyone on waivers — Ken Rosenthal says Byrd, Jonathan Papelbon, Cole Hamels, A.J. Burnett, Roberto Hernandez, Kyle Kendrick, Antonio Bastardo, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Ryan Howard were placed on trade waivers. The Yankees don’t have interest in a reunion with Burnett, Hernandez and Kendrick are blah, and Hamels seems unattainable at this point. Cliff Lee’s injury completely killed his trade value as well.

Players have already started to hit waivers though, and that’s the most important thing. The August trade engine is revved up. Here are some potential pitching trade targets for the Yankees, with an emphasis on guys who might be available for little more than salary relief.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

RHP Bartolo Colon, Mets
The Mets tried hard to unload the 41-year-old Colon at the deadline, but found no takers because he is owed another $3M or so this year plus $11M next year. He’s pitched well enough in 2014, with a 4.12 ERA (3.51 FIP) while averaging 6.2 innings per start, but something about a pitcher that old and with that arm injury/PED history scares teams away. Can’t say I blame them. The Mets will reportedly try to move Colon again in the offseason, when one year of him at $11M might be an appealing alternative to the free agent market.

The Yankees obviously know Colon after helping him bring his career back from the dead in 2011, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be eager to trade for him. It could mean the exact opposite, in fact. It could scare them away. I don’t think the Mets would let Colon go on waivers for nothing just to dump salary — he does still has some trade value as an innings-eater — but I am certain he’s available.

LHP John Danks, White Sox
We heard an awful lot about the Yankees and Danks these last few weeks, especially in the days leading up to the trade deadline. The two teams were unable to work out a deal in part due to a disagreement over how much of the ~$33M left on his contract the ChiSox would eat. Danks is signed through 2016 at $14.25M per year, and he’s been nothing more than serviceable since coming back from a torn shoulder capsule last year (4.63 ERA and 4.96 FIP). That includes a 4.50 ERA (4.85 FIP) in 136 innings this year.

Given all the money left on his contract and the fact that he’s coming off a recent major injury, an injury that usually ends most pitchers’ careers, I do think the White Sox would let Danks go on waivers for nothing but the salary relief. They could try to work out a trade to get a prospect in return first, but, if push came to shove, I don’t think they would pull him back. Either way, no team will take the risk and claim him. He’ll clear waivers, allowing him to be traded anywhere. If Danks was a pure rental, it would be a much different story. But since he’s signed for another two years at significant dollars, I don’t think the Yankees should go after him without Chicago paying down a decent chunk of the salary.

(Jason O. Watson/Getty)
(Jason O. Watson/Getty)

RHP Jason Hammel, Athletics
Since being acquired from the Cubs early last month, Hammel has a 9.53 ERA (7.31 FIP) in four starts and 17 innings for Oakland. (Five homers with a 12/10 K/BB.) He’s been terrible since the trade — two of his starts have been disasters, the other two okay at best — so much so that I have to think it’s more than a simple statistical correction after he pitched over his head for the Cubbies for three months. Maybe he’s hiding an injury or a mechanical mess, a la Jim Johnson. Hammel was pretty awesome for Chicago, remember (2.98 ERA and 3.19 FIP). I doubt he forgot to pitch on the flight to join his new team.

Anyway, Rosenthal says the A’s placed Hammel on trade waivers yesterday and, right before the trade deadline, Jon Morosi reported GM Billy Beane was “getting flooded” with calls about the righty in the wake of the Jon Lester deal. That doesn’t mean they will trade him, he is still penciled in as their fifth starter following the Lester pickup, but maybe they’re open to moving Hammel after adding another ace to the rotation and pushing him down the depth chart. He’s owed another $2M this season before becoming a free agent. Beane could look to save some cash and recoup a prospect rather than carry a potentially terrible starter these last few weeks. I know he’s stunk lately, but when you have Matt Daley on the roster and are considering starting Esmil Rogers, claiming Hammel and his $2M salary off trade waivers seems like a no-brainer to me. I suspect some team will beat the Yankees to it.

RHP Colby Lewis, Rangers
Lewis beat the Yankees twice in the last two weeks, though he still has a 5.98 ERA (4.29 FIP) in 19 starts and 102.1 innings overall this year. He’s coming back from elbow and hip problems that cost him the second half of 2012 and all of 2013. Lewis has been much better over the last few weeks (thanks in part to the Yankees!), allowing no more than two earned runs in four of his last six starts and no more than three earned runs in five of his last six starts. The one exception was a total disaster (13 runs in 2.1 innings!). Look at his gamelog and you’ll see he’s been good more often than not over the last month or so.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

There have been no trade rumors involving Lewis this year mostly because he hasn’t pitched well, but also because the Rangers are desperate for pitching themselves. They have six pitchers on the 60-day disabled list, including starters Derek Holland, Martin Perez, and Matt Harrison. Rotation options Alexi Ogando and Tanner Scheppers are also hurt. Lewis is only owed another $700k this season, give or take, so his salary isn’t an issue either. Holland is due to back relatively soon and maybe Texas would be open to dealing Lewis to a contender for a prospect or salary relief or whatever, but that seems unlikely. He’s an August trade candidate only in the sense that every player on a bad team is an August trade candidate.

* * *

Lee would have been the ultimate August salary dump trade candidate, but his latest injury put an end to that. He’s going to miss the rest of the season with a recurring structural problem in his elbow, so his trade value is shot both for this month and the offseason. Ian Kennedy, whose named popped up in plenty of rumors before the deadline, may still be available, but he’ll require giving up something of actual value. Brian Cashman has done nothing but add players on the cheap this summer.

Aside from getting Hammel for nothing on waivers — I really doubt that will happen, Beane’s no idiot and he won’t let pitching depth walk away for nothing but salary relief — the best case August trade scenario is getting James Shields from the Royals. He’s a pure rental and he’s a very good AL East proven workhorse, which is pretty much exactly what the Yankees need. Kansas City would both have to fall out of race — they’re 4.5 back in the AL Central and 1.5 back of the second wildcard spot — and acknowledge they can’t afford to re-sign him after the season. Plus the Yankees would have to give up something more valuable than the supplemental first round pick the Royals would receive when he signs elsewhere. Shields (and Hammel) seems very unlikely, so the Yankees will have to pick through scraps to boost their starting staff down the stretch.

Yankees, Cubs exchanged proposals for Samardzija and Hammel

According to Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman, the Yankees and Cubs exchanged proposals for both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel before the two were traded to the Athletics. It sounds like they were discussing them in separate deals, not one big trade. Heyman says the Yankees finished second in the bidding for Samardzija and lost out because they didn’t want to give up Dellin Betances and simply don’t have a prospect as good as Addison Russell.

With Chase Whitley crashing back to Earth and Vidal Nuno being Vidal Nuno, it’s clear the Yankees need at least one and maybe even two starters. It sounds like CC Sabathia is done for the year and who knows when or if Michael Pineda will return. Even if you think the Yankees won’t contend and have no business being buyers, they still need some kind of veteran innings eater to take some pressure off Betances and Adam Warren. Those two are already starting to show signs of being overworked and the Yankees need to scale back on their workload in the coming weeks.