The Mariners And Jason Hammel
Lately, a couple things have been plainly obvious. One, the Mariners are still very much alive in the playoff race. Two, the Mariners could badly use some help. With that in mind, a note of interest, from Gordon Wittenmyer:
Sources say the Cubs already have had trade talks with multiple teams regarding Samardzija and right-hander Jason Hammel. The Braves, Mariners and Blue Jays are among the most interested, with one source suggesting offers already have been made by at least two teams.
And one major-league source said he expects Hammel to end up in Seattle.
At first look, Hammel is a curious target. He’s a career .115 hitter, with only one home run, and he hasn’t played the outfield or infield professionally. Back in high school, he almost opted to play soccer, so it’s not like he has a track record anywhere of being a successful position player. But at 6’6, 225, he definitely has the frame of a guy who can swing with real leverage, so maybe this would be a scouting move.
Yeah, so, Jason Hammel isn’t a hitter. The Mariners have been most hard up for hitters. Hammel’s a starting pitcher, and the Mariners have been okay in that department. The natural initial response is, “THIS ISN’T ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM, MORONS.” But, it would address the problem of the Mariners not having enough talent. And also, turns out teams aren’t limited to making only one move. The market, right now, has pitching available. Not so much hitting. With the second wild card, there aren’t many teams behaving like they’re out of the race. Those who are out of the race aren’t dealing with a surplus of bats. You can only acquire that which is made acquirable.
Some things about Hammel: he’s 31. Right-handed. One-year contract, modest salary. Went to high school in Port Orchard! But he’s five years younger than Willie Ballgame. He’s had a pretty good year to date. Some rankings:
ERA-: 16th out of 99 qualified starters
Hammel, this year, has been good. Hammel, last year, was bad. Hammel, the year before, was good. The rest of the way, Jason Hammel should be either good or bad, or okay.
Something I didn’t know is the Mariners actually drafted Hammel in 2000. He didn’t sign, but the players who did sign went on to accomplish fuck-all. All the players the Mariners drafted that year have combined to post 8.7 major-league WAR. Of that, Jason Hammel is individually responsible for 8.7 major-league WAR. In the 34th round, the Mariners drafted a right-handed high-school pitcher named Chris Way. In the 35th round, the Mariners drafted a different right-handed high-school pitcher named Chris Way. On that basis it seems evident the baseball draft needn’t continue beyond the 33rd round.
The idea behind adding a pitcher would be this: simply, you can never have enough starting pitching. Really, I kind of embrace the idea, because the Mariners could act like they’re comfortable if they wanted to. Felix and Iwakuma, obviously, are good. Elias has been a surprise and Young has maintained a low ERA, and Walker is close while Paxton is back to throwing. The Mariners could try to justify standing pat, but, think about it. Right now they’re starting Erasmo Ramirez, and they don’t want to be doing that. Elias, professionally, hasn’t exceeded 148 innings, and Young’s ERA is at least to some extent a mirage. Walker’s been close before, and he has yet to appear this season. Paxton recently had a setback in his shoulder. If you don’t think there’s room for a starting pitcher, you are the most positive-thinking person in the world, and the most positive-thinking person in the world wouldn’t root for the Mariners, so you don’t exist. Obviously, Hammel could fit. He’d presumably help. In the best-case scenario of having too many good starters, the Mariners could nervously wring their hands all the way into October.
But what would an addition like Hammel cost? Remember, one-year contract, with an inconsistent track record. Helpfully, the Cubs have done this before. A year ago, the Cubs exchanged Scott Feldman for Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, and some international spending money. The year before, the Cubs exchanged Paul Maholm for Jaye Chapman and Arodys Vizcaino. In both instances, the pitchers were accompanied by role players, but this conveys the idea. Arrieta was a talented project. Vizcaino was a talented project. The Cubs targeted former good pitching prospects who’d lost some of their sheen. What would that look like, here? Erasmo Ramirez? Brandon Maurer? Danny Hultzen? Maybe the Cubs would look for something else, but Hammel would cost something of possible long-term value. When you sell a guy like Jason Hammel, you can get something you actually want, beyond salary relief.
Perhaps the bigger question is this: should the Mariners even be in the market for upgrades? Should the Mariners even think about giving up long-term value for shorter-term value? They have about a 4-5% chance of winning the division. They’re within a couple games of the wild card, but even the Astros are only 5.5 back. The wild card plays a one-game playoff, meaning it could be one and done. No matter how you play with the numbers, the Mariners are more likely to miss the playoffs than they are to make them. How much do you give up to improve that kind of team, given that realistic improvements can’t adjust the odds all that significantly?
It’s not the kind of question that’s easy to answer with numbers. On the one hand, the Mariners aren’t very good. On the other hand, you don’t have to be very good to win the wild card, and the Mariners are in that sweet spot, or thereabouts, on the win curve, where additional wins have tremendous value. So there are different ways to argue this. Based purely on feel, the Mariners shouldn’t sell out to make a major splash, like David Price or Jeff Samardzija. But with more minor parts, right now I’m okay with the idea of losing potential future help. I could probably rationalize a Jason Hammel trade package. I’d have more difficulty rationalizing a Jon Lester or James Shields trade package. Assuming, of course, the returns would be wildly different.
In theory, things could pick up soon — the Cubs moved Feldman last year on July 2. It’s exciting to have the Mariners relevant, and it’s exciting to be able to think about midseason upgrades. It’s also positively terrifying, but it’s a new and unfamiliar kind of terror, and, whatever gets your heart racing, right? If the Mariners wanted to make this easy on themselves, they could extend this current losing streak. So, that’s one option. It’s not the best option for the long-term, maybe.