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Royals potential free agent target: Jason Hammel

He is probably the best pitcher remaining

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Some of you may not remember this, but Jason Hammel has already contributed to Royals’ playoff success. No, of course he wasn’t on the ‘85 team and you’re right, he wasn’t on the ‘14 or ‘15 teams, either. But he was a huge help to Kansas City in the ‘14 Wild Card Game. He was on the mound for the other team during a rather important moment:

Now that introductions are out of the way, let’s talk a little about Hammel’s career. The 6’6", 225 lb, 34-year-old right handed starter grew up the Devil Rays’ system and has pitched in the big leagues for them, the Rockies, the Orioles, the Cubs, and the Athletics. He has been a very good player for most of his career putting up 1.5 or more WAR in 5 of 7 complete seasons.

You may have heard that the Cubs declined his $12 million option for the 2017 season and assume he was really bad last year to get that treatment. And the reality is, he wasn’t great, despite his 15 wins and 3.83 ERA. His strikeouts were down and the walk rate, home run rate, ERA, and FIP were all the highest they’d been since 2013, which was easily his worst complete big league season.

However, in the Royals’ rotation last year with at least 60 innings pitched, only Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy had a better strikeout rate. Only Duffy and Dillon Gee had a better walk rate. Only Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura had a lower home run rate - and Hammel had to pitch half his games at Wrigley Field.

So that’s what he’s done, but what will he do, next year? Here are some Steamer projections I want you to look at:

SP Projections

Player K/9 BB/9 GB% HR/9 FIP fWAR
Player K/9 BB/9 GB% HR/9 FIP fWAR
Player A 6.20 2.45 40.1% 1.27 4.52 1.5
Player B 8.52 2.80 38.1% 1.10 3.90 3.1
Player C 8.22 2.99 35.9% 1.31 4.34 2.3
Player D 7.75 2.67 41.3% 1.29 4.31 1.7
Player E 8.28 3.68 42.1% 1.12 4.26 1.6

In that table, Player D is Jason Hammel; he’s projected to be slightly better next year in just about every category than he was this year. If that was a rotation, he’d probably slide neatly into the third slot and not look too shabby. If you assumed the other players were probable Royals’ starters you may have already figured out who they were: Player A is Jason Vargas, B is Danny Duffy, C is Ian Kennedy, and E is Nate Karns.

Hammel isn’t going to blow anyone away, but he has the potential to be a completely serviceable number three starter in that rotation. If they can fix Nate Karns’ walk rate there’s a very good chance he could end up being the number three starter and then Hammel be a good number four and that would make Vargas the number five starter. If Vargas pitches approximately as well as he has in a Royals uniform previously, that’s got the making of a rotation without any glaring holes. And remember, the 2015 World Series winning rotation spent most of the year with the worst form of Jeremy Guthrie still pitching.

Now that you are sitting there looking at your screen thinking, "Ya know, Jason Hammel might actually be kind of a nice signing..." it is time to burst your bubble. According to Sam Mellinger of the KC Star, the Royals are unlikely to sign any free agent pitching. If you don’t want to click the link the highlights of his piece are: the talent out there doesn’t match the potential of the shoes that they’re trying to fill and probably costs more, they don’t get immediate salary relief because insurance companies are a pain, and even when they eventually get the salary relief it won’t be much for this season. The Royals also don’t really have the pieces to trade for anyone without crippling the farm system even further. Of course, the majority of the rumors had the Royals out of the running for just about every bat out there, but they still signed Brandon Moss to a two year deal only yesterday.

Jon Heyman predicted at the start of the off-season that Jason Hammel would command a three-year, $36 million deal. But as of the off-season reaches its end, it looks like teams are not willing to give him more than a one-year deal.The Royals are reportedly keeping tabs on him, as their need for starting pitching has increased since the unfortunate death of Yordano Ventura. He did suffer elbow tightness last year, so perhaps there are injury risks we don't know about. But if his price falls, he could be worth the gamble.