It has been an interesting season for Indians pitching, specifically their starting pitching. In 2013, the Tribe had impressive seasons out of Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Scott Kazmir, but with Jimenez and Kazmir leaving via free agency and Masterson sporting a 5.03 ERA and 1.54 WHIP over 17 starts, it seems nearly incredible that the Indians have won 38 games. Leaning heavily on Corey Kluber, who has pitched seven or more innings in nine of his 17 starts, the rotation has an anchor, but Cleveland has used eight different starting pitchers this season, and only Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Josh Tomlin have ERA numbers below 5.00. To say that the club could use some reinforcements in the rotation would be quite an understatement.
Enter Jason Hammel, a 6’6″, 225 pound right-handed starter for the Chicago Cubs. After spending seven years bouncing between the rotation and bullpen in Tampa and fighting through the thin air in Denver, Hammel landed in Baltimore in 2012. He began throwing a two-seam fastball more often, while cutting back the use of his changeup. Suddenly, Hammel was a completely different pitcher, even while moving to the always-challenging AL East. That season, Hammel posted his lowest WHIP (1.24), lowest hits per nine (7.9), and lowest ERA (3.43, 3.29 FIP) of his career, while reaching career-highs in his strikeout rate (8.62 per nine) and ground-ball rate (53.2 percent). Then, after twenty starts, Hammel developed some cartilage issues in his right knee which resulted in a surgery in July that cost his the rest of the season. He pitched for Baltimore again in 2013, but wasn’t nearly as effective, missing time on the disabled list due to an elbow strain, while compiling a 4.97 ERA and 1.46 WHIP over 139.1 innings.
Hammel hit free agency needing an opportunity, and the Chicago Cubs wisely locked him up for $6 MM on a one-year deal. Needless to say, his career has once again rebounded, as Hammel has been a force in the Cubs rotation, compiling a 2.99 ERA and 1.01 WHIP over his 15 starts and 96.1 innings. With the Cubs out of contention and with little reason to give Hammel a qualifying offer, he will be dealt over the next several weeks to a contending, pitching-starved squad.
This is where the Indians come in.
The Chicago Cubs system is absolutely loaded with offensive firepower. Anthony Rizzo is locked up at first base through 2021 (including team options) and shortstop Starlin Castro is locked up through 2020 (including a team option) at the major league level, but the remainder of that firepower is working its way up through the system. Javier Baez may not have a spot at shortstop, but his elite-level power and quick hands, which draw comparisons to Gary Sheffield, will find a place on the diamond. There’s future center fielder Albert Almora, middle infield prospect Arismendy Alcantara, Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler, and ,2013′s first round pick, Kris Bryant, who has insane numbers this season in the minors. However, the Cubs don’t have a lot of pitching prospects in their system, as C.J. Edwards, who was stolen from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza deal, and Pierce Johnson are the only pitchers in the system’s top 10, according to MLB.com.
With the Indians possessing very little help in the pitching realm of their minor league system, a trade for Jason Hammel could require a bit of creativity. Perhaps the Tribe could jump Francisco Lindor from Double-A and deal Asdrubal Cabrera for a prospect or two, which could then be flipped for Hammel. Another option could be moving a blocked prospect like Joe Wendle, a solid offensive-minded second baseman, in a deal, or dealing Carlos Moncrief to a third team, though, Moncrief’s outburst this season could lead to him being enough for a deal to happen. With the Cubs and Indians not matching up well, Cleveland will need to figure out a way to make something happen that is “outside of the box”.
Hammel isn’t an elite arm like David Price, but he has shown that when he isn’t in Colorado or being tossed between the rotation and bullpen…when healthy…Hammel is a very useful arm. With so few useful arms in the system, if the Indians are buyers in the next few weeks, they are much more capable of landing an arm like Hammel over an arm like Price.