As the calendar comes closer to flipping to January and Spring Training is closer than any of us think, there are still a number of free agents who can make a difference for a team in 2017 on the market. As we all know, this year’s pitching free agent options were less than appealing. However, there were some middle-of-the-rotation options, a few of whom are still available. One of those pitchers is Jason Hammel.
Over the past two seasons, Hammel has given the Cubs quality innings, helping to lead them into the playoffs. He did not see any time in the postseason for the Cubs in 2016, due to elbow tightness in September, the quality depth of Chicago, and perhaps talk of his relationship with Joe Maddon.
Over the course of his career he has been fairly consistent in throwing 170 innings and an ERA around 4.00, but he has kept it below four over the last three seasons. Hammel is a fly ball pitcher, with a 38.1 percent fly ball rate last season and a 13.8 HR/FB percentage — the latter a career worst. Teams interested in Hammel will have to take that into account when assessing how he fits in their home park. While looking at possible options for Hammel, I came to three teams that I feel may be a fit for him.
I hesitate to put the Rockies as an option after just mentioning Hammel is a fly-ball pitcher, as combining him with Coors Field may not be the best option. However, of all the teams in the National League, the Rockies are the most viable option, since most of this year’s free-agent pitchers (Hellickson, Colon, Dickey, Volquez, Locke) have been signed by National League teams already, so the options are running thin. Also, the way Hammel’s career has gone — his strikeouts and walks per nine innings got worse for the first time since 2013, the last time he pitched in the AL — pitching in the NL may play best for his stuff.
The Rockies have moved toward a path to contention with their recent signings and could still use a few more upgrades, particularly in the rotation. An addition of Hammel would slide him behind Gray and provide veteran leadership in a relatively young rotation (average age of projected starter is 26). Also, if the Rockies plan on playing in October, Hammel can bring postseason experience to the table as well.
The Astros are another young team that is going for it, albeit much more ahead of the Rockies in terms of development. Their starting five appears to be intact as currently constructed, but they may be able to add to the rotation and the bullpen at the same time.
If the Astros signed Hammel, they could convert Mike Fiers to a reliever, something he has done and has been discussed in the past. Fiers could fill a swingman role, deepening Houston’s depth. Similar to the scenario of signing with the Rockies, Hammel would provide veteran leadership to a rotation that may be a bit older than Colorado’s, but is still relatively young.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have had their fair share of injuries to their pitching (Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, and Nick Tropeano), so there may not be a team that knows the need for pitching depth better than they do. Also, the Angels need to do all they can to compete while Mike Trout is manning center field. Their recent additions of Cameron Maybin, Danny Espinosa, and Ben Revere may not move the needle greatly, but they will help them improve, particularly on defense. If the Angels can combine that progress with most importantly health, they could compete for a wild card spot in the American League.
The current rotation has Jesse Chavez, but Hammel would provide a bigger impact. Hammel’s fly-ball allowance would work well in Angel Stadium, which was home to only 187 home runs in 2016, the fourth-fewest in the American League. Of the three options, there is not a home ballpark more capable of fitting Hammel’s abilities than Angel Stadium.
Adding Hammel would allow Los Angeles to move Chavez to relief and improve its bullpen, led by Huston Street and Andrew Bailey. The Angels appear to be the best fit for the services of Hammel and the most likely destination for him in 2017.
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Carl Triano is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and Minor League Ball.