Yankees Free Agent Showdown: Rich Hill or Jason Hammel?


Although the starting pitching market is thin, the New York Yankees are rumored to be considering the top two free agent options available, Rich Hill and Jason Hammel.

While much of the recent speculation surrounding the New York Yankees has focused on their pursuit of a veteran bat in the wake of the Brian McCann trade, the pitching staff, especially their starting five, remains the area of their roster that most clearly needs to be addressed this offseason if they have any hope of contending in 2017.

With frontline starters like Chris Sale, Sonny Gray, and Chris Archer potentially being shopped this winter, many have assumed that New York would look to upgrade their rotation via trade, however that would require surrendering the impressive prospect depth the front office has managed to accumulate, and it doesn’t sound like general manager Brian Cashman is willing to do that at this stage in their rebuilding process.

Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball recently reported a long list of free agents the Yankees have been in contact with, and among them are the top two starting pitchers available: Rich Hill and Jason Hammel.

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These two arms are polar opposites. When healthy, Hill was one of the top five most dominant pitchers in baseball last year, but he has exactly two seasons of 100 innings or more after 12 years in the big leagues because of the laundry list of ailments that have kept him off the mound for much of his career.

Hammel, on the other hand, is a model of boring dependability. He has nowhere near Hill’s upside but has averaged 27.5 starts and 162 innings per season over the last eight years. With no fewer than 20 starts or 100 innings during any season in that span, he’s the dictionary definition of an innings eater.

The real question then, is what would be more beneficial to the 2017 Yankees, upside or dependability? I would argue that the team has plenty of young, back-of-the-rotation types in-house who can provide the team with league average-ish innings.

They can cycle through guys like Adam Warren, Luis Cessa, Luis Severino, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Jordan Montgomery, and Dietrich Enns in the number four and five spots and be just fine, but it’s probably a stretch to see any of those guys emerging as a legitimate front-of-the-rotation options.

In his 20 starts last year, Hill was worth 4.1 wins above replacement according to Baseball-Reference. In his 30 starts, with 56.1 more innings to create value for his club, Hammel was worth just 1.1 WAR. The truth is, even when he isn’t able to pitch a full season, Hill will have a much greater impact on a club than a guy like Hammel, who is not far away from being replacement level.

MLB Trade Rumors expects these two guys to command very similar contracts this offseason, predicting three years and $50 million for Hill, while putting Hammel just one spot below him on their 2016-2017 Top 50 Free Agents at three years and $42 million.

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While signing Hill is admittedly a big risk, the potential payout is a playoff berth in 2017 if both he and Masahiro Tanaka remain healthy. Signing Hammel probably doesn’t even provide the Yankees with an upgrade over the guys they already have for about the same money it would take to get Hill.