A mere five months ago, as the fireworks flew over Navy Pier to commemorate another Fourth of July, the Chicago Cubs surprised the baseball world by trading both Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland A’s in exchange for two highly-regarded prospects. With today’s free agent signing, the Cubs have reacquired half of that pitching tandem by coming to terms on a two-year deal with Hammel. To see our write-up on Hammel entering last season look here. Unlike last season’s one year deal for $6 million dollars, the new contract pays Hammel $18 million over two years with a club option for a third year or a $2 million dollar buyout. By current free agent signing standards, the Hammel contract seems fair to both parties. The Cubs receive a reliable back of the rotation starter who is only 32 years old and Hammel gets the security of a multi-year deal. Joining a starting rotation that currently only includes Jake Arieta and Kyle Hendricks, Hammel should fit in nicely on the 2015 Cubs’ roster.
When teams trade players who are pending free agents, fans often talk about re-signing that player. After all, trading a player for prospects in July only to reacquire his services for the next season seems like a no-brainer. In reality, however, these types of deals almost never come to fruition. Whether there are hurt feelings by the player, other bidders for his services, or reservations by the former team, these type of trade and re-sign situations are rare. Certainly, the Cubs hope Jon Lester does not return to the Boston Red Sox under similar circumstances.
Hammel pitched extraordinarily well for the Cubs during his three months of service in 2014. In 17 starts, Hammel posted a 2.98 earned run average while matching a career high of 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings while walking a career low 1.9 batters per nine innings. Hammel also drastically reduced the number of home runs he allowed from his ghastly 2013 season. Combined with a career low 7.3 hits per nine innings, these statistics help to explain why Hammel pitched so effectively for the Cubs last year. Unfortunately for Hammel, upon joining the A’s, he allowed more hits, walks, and home runs, while striking out fewer batters. His peripheral numbers were so bad that Hammel’s 4.26 earned run average failed to capture just how ineffectively he pitched for the A’s. To say that Hammel proved a major disappointment for the A’s down the stretch last season would be an understatement.
Even if Hammel does not pitch at his 2014 first-half level, he can be an effective mid to back-of-the-rotation starter if he strikes out about eight batters per nine innings, allows ten or eleven base runners per nine innings, while generally keeping the ball in the park. Hammel’s overall 2014 statistics fell into this sweet spot (8.1 Ks, 10.1 H/W, 1.2 HRs per nine innings) as did his 2012 campaign (8.6 Ks, 11.1 H/W, .7 HRs per nine innings). Hammel proved in 2012 and again in 2014 that he can be an effective pitcher. Now let’s see him do it in an odd numbered year! The Cubs are counting on him.