The Kansas City Royals are considering signing free agent starting pitcher Jason Hammel according to a report from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. While Hammel is likely the top starting pitchers remaining in free agency, the Royals are also considering signing Doug Fister or contacting the Rays about the availability of Jake Odorizzi or Alex Cobb.
This late into the offseason, Hammel is likely to sign a relatively team-friendly deal. The 34-year-old has pitched 513.2 innings over the past three seasons and appeared in 91 games making 90 starts—most of which with the Cubs.
The only departure from the Cubs over that time was a brief stint with the Athletics that didn’t end particularly well for either party. That being said, Hammel has been worth 5.5 wins above replacement according to FanGraphs over the past three seasons, despite being below replacement level with the Athletics.
With pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training so soon, Hammel could likely be signed to a very inexpensive deal. However, according to Cafardo, the Royals could go bargain hunting and look at signing Fister instead, "who may come cheaper."
The nearly-33-year-old Fister is coming off of a nice bounceback season with the Astros following a pretty disastrous 2014 campaign with the Nationals. Clearly a different pitcher since his days with the Tigers, Fister is generating groundballs and strikeouts at much lower rates. Compounding matters further, Fister posted a career-worst walk rate as well. While Fister may come cheaper, he also comes with a buyer-beware tag.
Lastly, if the Rays are open to doing business, the Royals may turn to the trade route to answer their starting pitching needs. Both Odorizzi and Cobb are better contributors than Hammel or Fister, but their cost might not be worth it for the transitional Royals.
The Rays are teetering on the brink of rebuild after trading away Logan Forsythe for pitching prospect Jose De Leon. However, preventing them from going full firesale is the fact that De Leon isn’t especially far from major league ready, and could make the Rays roster as early as this season.
If Odorizzi or Cobb are made available, the Royals might not have the prospect depth to be able to manage such a deal. Further, the Royals have already spent the offseason trading away major league contributors like Wade Davis and Jarrod Dyson for other major league contributors.
This seems to be a shuffling of resources on expiring contracts to try and soften the blow of so many impending free agents come next offseason; a list that still includes Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain among others. Perhaps the Royals could find a way to continue unloading expiring contracts for more controllable assets, like Odorizzi. This method may eliminate Cobb though, who is also on an expiring contract.