MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Royals smart to pick up trusty Hammel

Reported signing underscores surprisingly quiet market for veteran righty

Royals smart to pick up trusty Hammel

Smart move by the Royals.

As for the 28 teams that allowed Jason Hammel to linger on the free-agent market until February, well, all 28 must have really good starting rotations. Otherwise it's impossible to understand exactly how Hammel was left hanging after winning 15 games for the Cubs last season and averaging 30 starts a year since 2014.

Hammel is a significant asset, as Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and manager Joe Maddon say at every opportunity they get. He was left off the Cubs' postseason roster only because the other four starters (Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey) were so strong.

Royals, Hammel reportedly reach 2-year deal

Until Hammel was hit hard in some starts late in the season, you could have argued for him ahead of Lackey. But the Cubs were fortunate that they had more starters than they could use in October, so Hammel was left on the sidelines.

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Hammel a good fit for Royals

After the World Series, the Cubs felt they could have easily exercised Hammel's $12 million option for 2017 and then traded him. But because he had twice acquired him and respected him, Epstein gave Hammel the option of having the option picked up or going onto the free-agent market.

Hammel picked the latter, and based on the deal he reportedly received from the Royals -- two years, $16 million with a mutual option for a third season -- it looks like a mistake.

Hammel is entering his age-35 season, and teams with starting pitching needs were reluctant to guarantee a multiyear deal. He's not a front-of-the-rotation workhorse. Hammel's next 180-inning season will be his first. But he's averaged 1.8 WAR over the past five seasons, including 3-plus WAR seasons in 2012 and '14, and worked well at the back of the rotation for Cubs teams that won 200 regular-season games from 2015-16.

If you've got a better fifth starter than Hammel -- a better fourth starter, even -- then you've got a heck of a rotation.

Hammel has twice been part of teams that turned themselves from contenders into winners, both instances -- in Tampa Bay and Chicago -- with Maddon at the helm. He would have seemed like a low-risk addition for teams looking to build rotation depth.

Hammel's scoreless start

Royals general manager Dayton Moore was fortunate that Hammel was still on the market when Yordano Ventura's death created a hole in Kansas City's rotation. Hammel is not going to make anyone feel better about the tragic loss when the Royals assemble in Arizona next week; Ventura will be horribly missed. But when April rolls around, he'll be valuable working behind Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy.

Make no mistake about it: Contending against the Indians in the American League Central is going to be a very tall task for the Royals in the last pre-free agency seasons for Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar. Another addition from the Cubs, Cuban right fielder Jorge Soler, will have to deliver in a big way for manager Ned Yost if the Royals are to keep their window to win open.

Hammel could wind up being a trade piece for Kansas City if the first half of the season goes badly. His contract would be a godsend for a team like the Rangers, Yankees or Tigers, who are up against the tax threshold and equally attractive for even lower-revenue teams like the Pirates and A's.

But the Royals aren't getting Hammel to spin him. They're getting him because they think he can help them win, and everything about his past five seasons says he should do exactly that.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.