It seems most of the current hubub of the winter meetings and the offseason overall is revolving around Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka as well as other big name free agents such as Matt Garza and Ervin Santana. Now admittedly any of these players would look great in a Jays’ uniform… (although maybe not Santana at the dollars he is asking.) I think that there may be some more under the radar candidates that could help Toronto improve their starting rotation.
My prime stealth target for the Jays to acquire would be none other than the Orioles’ 2013 opening day starter Jason Hammel. Hammel had a strange two-year stay with the Orioles. In 2012 he was only able to make 20 starts while battling a right knee injury. He pitched only 118 innings after throwing at least 170 the previous three seasons with the Rockies, but he finished with a 3.43 ERA and was had a career high K/9 rate of 8.6.
In 2013 he was able to climb somewhat closer to the innings he threw in Colorado getting up to 139 innings despite missing a large chunk of time with a right forearm issue (yeah probable red flag I know.) At first glance though his numbers for 2013 took a serious hit as his era climbed by more than a run and a half to 4.97. A lot of this however seems to be somewhat explainable. If you look at his stats month by month he was good in April with a WHIP of 1.26 terrible in May climbing up to 1.71, bounced back in June with a 1.26 and then was atrocious in July posting a WHIP of 1.88 (GROSS) right before he went on the DL. While the May numbers are a little mysterious it is likely his ugly July can be attributed to the forearm injury which saw him end up on the DL on July 29.
What really hurt Hammel in 2013 however was a spike in his home run rate. Hammel had a career high 1.4 HR/9 in 2013 which is very surprising since he spent three years as a starter at Coors Field. This rate is likely to regress to the mean in 2014 and beyond which would surely help make him much more effective.
Another thing in Hammel’s favour is that he has pitched effectively against AL East competition. While his numbers in 2013 are a little rough against the Jays and the Rays, in 2012 Hammel posted a 2.31 ERA against the Red Sox, 2.45 against the Rays, 2.89 against the Jays and only the Yankees managed to stick him with an ERA above three to the tune of 3.94. Now obviously ERA is not the definitive stat for measuring how effective a pitcher is, but it is good to see that he can hold his own against the big boys of the AL East.
Sure Hammel isn’t the magical piece that will right the Jays’ ship for 2014 but when you look at Toronto’s starters for 2013 only two pitched more than 110 innings. even with the injuries that Hammel has dealt with the last two seasons he has eclipsed that mark in both campaigns.
According to a story in the Baltimore Sun today Hammel is seeking a three-year deal, and based on the up and down performance over the last two-year the dollar figures are likely to be fairly reasonable for a team like the Jays. Also a three-year deal will hardly burden the franchise in the long-term, and he also will not cost the club a draft pick.
So although Hammel may not be a sexy option with lots of name attache he could be a solid cost-effective option for Toronto to improve their club as this is the kind of deal that the club needs to make in order to get an edge. Hopefully AA and the Jays’ front office act quickly as Hamell is drawing interest from the Rockies, Orioles and I’m sure other “mystery teams” as well.