Before anything else, a sad farewell to Tony Gwynn, who passed away today. His incredible contact ability and refusal to strike out went overlooked in an era that was dominated by home runs. We may not see a hitter with Gwynn's ability to make contact for a long, long time. Gwynn only struck out more than 23 times in a season once in his 30s and 40s. His race to .400 in 1994 is the saddest of all of the possible failed storylines, thanks to the strike. He was a great personality who will be sorely missed by all of us who loved watching him hit through the 80s and 90s.
Trade rumors are starting to spark with a flinty whimper, and the Mariners have been linked to pitching ever since news leaked out that they were looking for help at the back of the rotation. One of baseball's more obvious sellers in a shrinking market is the Chicago Cubs at 28-39, who have two arms to deal in Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. It's Gordon Wittenmyer from the Chicago Sun-Times who links Seattle to the Cubs, even stating that one MLB source expects Jason Hammel to end up in Seattle.
Both pitchers have been equally fantastic, ranking 10th and 11th in non-fluky ERA in the NL, but will come at different costs. Hammel is only signed through 2014 at $6 million, while Samardzija is controlled through the 2015 season via arbitration. At age 29 and a career on the upswing, Samardzija is likely due for a big raise in arbitration and a big payday after 2015, while Hammel will just look to get a multi-year deal after 2014 concludes.
Everyone has been paying attention to Samardzija thanks to his breakout year and his unfortunate attempts to accrue wins, sitting at just 2 with his 2.77 ERA. He's faded a bit after a spectacular start, mostly thanks to eight earned runs given up in a single start several weeks ago.
You probably know a lot about Samardzija already. Big, goofy long hair. Former wide receiver. Power righty, throws in the mid 90s. An increasing number of ground balls year by year, now over 50%. All costs the same he's the ideal target over Hammel, simply because of his durability, career on the upswing, and multiple years of control. But the costs won't be the same, and he's the more flashy, impact acquisition, even if the two have comparable numbers.
Hammel, on the other hand, is a guy we nearly stuck in the LL offseason plan. Health has always been the issue for Hammel, who followed an excellent 2012 with a large step backwards in 2013. It hasn't been any increased velocity that's led to his success this year, but the change in locale has him promptly dominating the National League. More strikeouts and the best control of his career has his peripherals looking equally nice, though a shade higher (3.47 xFIP) than his ERA (2.82). He's the kind of player available at the deadline that comes with some red flags given his inconsistent career, and has the potential to blow up (the bad kind) as soon as a team acquires him and makes him switch leagues.
The elephant in the room is the fact that Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija are most definitely not hitters. The Mariners strength has been pitching, and help is supposed to be on the way internally. But that doesn't change the fact that Hammel would represent an instant upgrade on the team, even if it's not in the greatest position of need. It's off-putting on first blush, but not everybody is selling. It's easy to dream about shortstops, power-hitting first basemen and an outfielder with a wRC+ anywhere north of 100, but at this stage in June, there aren't many teams announcing that they are already open for business. The Cubs are one of them, and this is what's available. Do the Mariners shop now for maximum length, or do they wait for more options but lost time?
Analysis of a potential deal is pretty simple at this point.
Jeff Samardzija: depends on the cost
Jason Hammel: depends on the cost
Hammel probably makes more sense to Seattle, as long as they don't have to give up anything too painful to get him. Samardzija would make the utopian 2015 rotation look downright terrifying, but if he guts away future parts of the 2015 roster in other ways, it makes me pause. Regardless, the Mariners seem like they're buyers -- but going all out for a name as big as Smardzija would be surprising.