KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Jason Hammel knows he wouldn’t be in Kansas City if tragedy had not struck the Royals organization.
The 34-year-old right-hander made that clear right from the start.
“I feel like I need to express my condolences to Royals Nation and the Ventura family,” he said, referring to the fatal car crash that claimed pitcher Yordano Ventura in his native Dominican Republic last month. “I truly feel if that unfortunate passing doesn’t happen, you’re not talking to me.”
Royals general manager Dayton Moore said that was precisely the case.
“Obviously we weren’t in the starting pitcher market,” he explained during a news conference to introduce his new pitcher Wednesday, “although we’d been an admirer of Jason for a while and knew he was an option out there. We were very surprised, truthfully, that he remained on the market as well. Once we got over the shock of Yordano, you have to move forward.
“We have a baseball season to play, a team we’re responsible for, players we’re committed to and a fan base we’re responsible for as well,” Moore added. “So our scouts to a man, our entire front office, said, ‘There’s one guy out there that really makes us better.’”
Hammel will make $5 million this season, $9 million next season and the deal includes a $12 million mutual option for the 2019 season with a $2 million buyout. Hammel can also earn $250,000 if he logs at least 200 innings, a threshold he has never reached over parts of 11 seasons.
Right-hander Alec Mills was designated for assignment to clear space for Hammel on the 40-man roster. The move was mildly surprising given how highly Mills is thought of in the Kansas City system.
Hammel slots into a starting rotation that includes left-handers Danny Duffy and Jason Vargas and right-hander Ian Kennedy, with the fifth spot up for grabs in spring training.
“This deal completes certainly our rotation, our pitching staff,” Moore said. “We’ll go to spring training and there will be some spots for competition in the bullpen. We’ll evaluate that. And as we all know, every major league team has to make adjustments to the roster throughout the season. Hopefully it has nothing to do with health, nothing to do with production.”
Hammel was 15-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 30 starts for the World Series champion Cubs last season, though he was not a part of the postseason roster. But he said Wednesday that a shoulder problem that lingered into September was not the reason for that decision.
Nor is it a reason anybody should give pause to his signing.
“Yeah, I mean, without going into great length, that was kind of the hold-up with a lot of teams is my guess,” he said. “The fact of the matter is I’m 100 percent healthy and I have been. I wasn’t on the postseason roster because we had a really good team.”
Hammel is certainly familiar with the Royals. He was teammates last season with outfielder Jorge Soler, who was acquired this offseason in a trade for closer Wade Davis. And he spent last season with second baseman Ben Zobrist, who played for the Royals on their 2015 World Series championship team.
He also was with Oakland when he delivered the pitch that Royals catcher Salvador Perez slapped for the winning hit in the 12th inning of their epic wild-card game in 2014. The hit gave Kansas City a 9-8 victory and spurred a World Series run, while likewise ending the A’s season.
“I made my pitch, as I’ve done a million times in my career, and there’s still been hits off that,” said Hammel, who admitted to hating Perez for “a good 24 hours” after that September night.
“I learned now that I didn’t make him honor the inner half of the plate, because he went out there and got it,” Hammel said. “I’m very excited to see him not do that to me anymore.”
His deal was negotiated by agents Sam and Seth Levinson.