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Covering the Hammel Toe

We've run through every other topic so let's discuss Jason Hammel.

On one hand, Hammel isn't as bad you would think. Even last year in limited starting action Hammel possessed a FIP of 4.87. That's above replacement level by quite a bit and even lower than Edwin Jackson's full-season FIP. The peripherals that accompanied that FIP weren't pretty: 4.89 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 0.98 HR/9, 59% strikes, 46% grounders, and 23% line drives, but hey, Edwin Jackson had some people clamoring for him, so why not Hammel?

In 2007, Hammel threw 67 innings as a starter and ~18 as a reliever. He saw more success as a starter, ending with 5 runs of value above replacement, but was below replacement level as a reliever (-0.1 runs). In 2006, Hammel was again above replacement level as a starter (~3 runs) and was not asked to do relief work. As we mentioned Hammel wasn't too poor as a starter in 2008 (2.3 runs) but for the most part failed as a mop-up reliever (-3.9 runs) which resulted in having negative value.

The Rays are going to quite a few pitchers with all but guaranteed bullpen jobs this spring: Dan Wheeler, J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour, Brian Shouse, Joe Nelson, and potentially Troy Percival. Add in Lance Cormier's guaranteed contract and Derek Rodriguez' situation and you have a full cast of characters fighting for the last two spots. If things weren't crowded enough, you still have to decide whether David Price is ready for the majors or not, which relegates Jeff Niemann either to the rotation, bullpen, or another team.

That leaves next to no room for Hammel, unless the Rays decide that they were joking with the Cormier deal and like spending extra money to release players. Since Hammel is also out of options this means the Rays should be pursuing trades or alternatives - like swapping Hammel for Rodriguez' rights, although I doubt the White Sox would do so - so they don't simply designated a pitcher of some value to assignment.

The problem with Jason Hammel isn't that he's without value, but rather that he's without value to this team. For whatever reasons, perhaps none at all, Hammel has struggled in relief. He might feel uncomfortable in the bullpen, maybe he put too much pressure on himself, I don't know, but I'm comfortable in saying Hammel's true talent is not below replacement level.

So yeah, I've said Hammel shouldn't be on the 2009 Rays team and I stand by that. I do think that a team like the White Sox, Padres, or even Cardinals could use Hammel as rotation insurance in face of alternatives like Livan Hernandez and Paul Byrd. Hammel won't fetch much in return, but he has value other teams, whether or not they realize it or are willing to send a few dollars in return, well, we'll see.