Early indications are that the team will at least try to pursue some help in the next few weeks. Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Mariners are one of three teams interested in pursuing Chicago Cubs starter Jason Hammel and even states that one major league source expects Hammel to end up in Seattle.
While Hammel doesn’t solve Seattle’s biggest issues, he could be a cheap half-season rental worth picking up for the right price.
It’s obvious that the Mariners desperately need another bat, but not much is going to be available at this year’s deadline. With the second Wild Card in play, very few teams will be selling at the deadline, and those that will don’t have much to offer in the way of offense.
Of course, there will be a few surprise deals at the deadline, but it appears the Mariners’ best option for offense would be to try to pry Ben Zobrist away from the Tampa Bay Rays. Zobrist could help the Mariners in a number of positions, but several contending teams are going to be interested in him, meaning a risky bidding war could ensue.
But the Mariners also need another arm as soon as possible. Between Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer, Seattle has basically been punting every time the No. 5 spot comes around in the rotation. Chris Young is also a candidate to regress soon, meaning things could get shaky in a hurry at the back of the Mariners’ rotation.
The hope is the situation stabilizes when Taijuan Walker and James Paxton return from injury. Walker is on a rehab assignment and should be able to make his season debut in a matter of weeks, while Paxton is likely closer to a month away.
Even if both return healthy and effective, the Mariners are going to be incredibly careful with their young pitchers, and it wouldn’t be a shock if either is shut down or limited later in the season. Roenis Elias is also likely on an innings limit and will be hitting his career high of 148.1 around August.
That’s where Hammel could provide an upgrade in the middle of the Seattle rotation for the rest of the year. Hammel is currently having one of the best seasons of his career, with a 3.02 ERA through 14 starts for the Cubs.
Hammel had been on a roll before a pair of bad starts over the last eight days. He dominated the Miami Marlins on June 6 in his second straight scoreless effort.
There’s the concern that Hammel may not be able to keep up this level of production due to the inconsistency he’s shown in the past, but his peripherals look solid. Hammel is running a FIP that matches his ERA exactly, per FanGraphs, and is posting career bests in both strikeouts and walks.
Hammel told Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com that his success has been due to his finally being healthy after having knee and forearm problems over the past two seasons.
“I knew two years ago, before I got hurt. I had made some adjustments and really figured out how to pitch and figured out who I was as a pitcher. ... Injuries can derail you. [I’m] obviously healthy. And it translates.”
Michael Beller of Sports Illustrated writes that Hammel’s success over the rest of the year will be dependent on his slider:
Beller’s analysis notes that opposing batters are missing 41.7 percent of the time when they swing at Hammel’s slider this year and only have a .217 slugging percentage against the pitch. Per Brooks Baseball, Hammel is throwing his slider 31.2 percent of this time in 2014, easily the highest rate of his career.
Hammel shouldn’t cost the Mariners a top-of-the-line prospect. Most attention at the deadline will be on Hammel’s teammate Jeff Samardzija, who is having an outstanding 2014 season and is also under team control for 2015. Samardzija would certainly improve the Mariners over the rest of this year as well as next season, but at the cost of Walker, Paxton or a similar-level prospect.
The Mariners only need to look at Scott Feldman's deal from last July to get an idea of what a Hammel deal might look like. In return for Feldman, the Cubs received pitcher Jake Arrieta from the Baltimore Orioles along with a couple of role players.
Arrieta had tremendous upside and was once a highly touted prospect but was never able to put it together in Baltimore. The change of scenery unlocked something, as Arrieta is having an excellent 2014 season.
The Mariners have a few similarly high-upside pitchers who have been busts in Seattle for various reasons, such as Maurer, Ramirez or even Danny Hultzen. The Mariners would have to seriously consider including one of those pitchers plus a couple of role players in exchange for Hammel.
Nick Franklin is also a likely trade chip, as some team might be willing to take a chance at translating his Triple-A success to the majors. The Cubs could also be looking for two or three promising prospects in the low minors, but Seattle is going to be hesitant to part with anybody on the offensive side of things.
Hammel isn’t the type of player who is going to turn a fringe contender like the Mariners into a serious threat, but the cost is low enough that he’s worth a try. Playoff races can turn around in a hurry due to injuries or inexplicable slumps, as evidenced by the current situation in the AL Central.
Anything can happen, and the Mariners need to at least show they are trying something in an attempt to win. Acquiring Hammel may not push Seattle over the top, but it’s not going to hurt.