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Why Isn’t Jason Hammel a Mariner?

A local boy, who plays a position the M’s need depth at, hasn’t signed yet. What gives?

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners need starting pitching.

This isn’t exactly an open secret - with the trade of Taijuan Walker earlier this offseason, the M’s dealt away a mainstay of their rotation. Combine that with the departures of Wade Miley and Wade LeBlanc, along with a few other starters, and the M’s need to replace roughly 13 of their games started for 2017.

Some of that comes through the simple accumulation of depth, and adding players like Chris Heston and, to a lesser extent, Ryan Weber, certainly accomplishes this. But even so, there’s a pretty big hole near the bottom of the rotation, after Felix, Iwakuma, and Paxton (in whatever order you fancy) and right around Ariel Miranda and Nate Karns.

Enter Jason Hammel.

Hammel is coming off three straight seasons with over 165 innings pitched. After signing a one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs before the 2014 season, he excelled in half a season before being dealt with Jeff Samardzija for Oakland Athletics top prospect Addison Russell. He then performed the ultimate switch-a-roo by signing back with the Cubs in the offseason, and he made 30+ starts in each of the past two years, offering solid (if unspectacular) rotation help.

Now, the Cubs did let Hammel go after the season, though per ESPN they offered him a choice as to if he wanted to stay or test free agency. Given the fact that Hammel is a Port Orchard native (and a graduate of South Kitsap HS), more than a few people have connected Hammel with the M’s.

So why hasn’t this deal happened yet, when it seems to make all the sense in the world? A few reasons:

  • He outpitched his peripherals last season.

On the surface, Hammel’s 3.83 ERA looks pretty good last season. But that statistic belies his 4.48 FIP, as well as a BABIP of .267 that seems to indicate he got a bit lucky in ‘16.

  • He has a bit of a home run problem.

There’s nothing wrong with this, Jason. We all have our issues. Yours just happens to be one where you allow DINGERS at a higher rate than the league average, with a HR/FB rate of over 12.0% in each of the past four years. This could be a sign of some bad luck, but it’s also a sign that he’s losing his top-level abilities.

  • Elbow issues!

This problem, however, is harder to overcome. Hammel was held out of the Cubs’ three playoff series in 2016 due to his pesky right elbow. Could his consistent use over the last few years alleviate these worries? Or could that work against him, proof that he’s been overworked and his right arm is a ticking time bomb?

  • His agent was overconfident.

One week ago, Ken Rosenthal reported that Hammel decided to make an agent change. Perhaps his agent got greedy and asked for too much, whether in total money or in contract length, while lesser players signed and reduced the competition. Either way, there’s a new agent on the block, and we’ll see whether that makes a difference.

So, will Jason Hammel sign with the Mariners? Nicolas Stellini made a compelling case on Fangraphs recently that the M’s and Angels should be tripping over themselves to woo him.

Sure, there are risks involved, namely signing a 34-year-old pitcher to a multi-year deal after some documented arm troubles. Even though he’s got Seattle connections, that missed time could be a sign of things to come.

That final paragraph, however, is exactly what the M’s thought last offseason, when 34-year-old pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma was a free agent. Signing him worked out pretty well in 2016, and though that’s certainly no indication of Hammel’s future success, it shows that these deals can certainly be a hit.

Will Hammel cost a lot of money? Yes, but it’s all relative. He’s the best option out there in a thin market, and giving him something like 2 or 3 years at $12 million per year isn’t going to make or break the M’s budget. This is the kind of player the Mariners need to get if they want to contend, and anyone better will take money as well as some good prospects - a combination that this organization can ill afford. It’s time, Jerry. Get ‘er done.