DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Royals knew at some point they would have to move on from grieving over the sudden and tragic death of Yordano Ventura and address the difficult task of replacing him.
That apparently came when the Royals agreed with right-hander Jason Hammel on a $16 million, two-year contract, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Monday because the deal is pending the completion of a physical.
The 34-year-old Hammel is expected to take Ventura’s place in the starting rotation. The 25-year-old flamethrower was killed last month in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic.
Hammel was 15-10 with a 3.83 ERA for the World Series champion Chicago Cubs last season and has proven to be a workhorse with at least 30 appearances in each of the past three seasons.
He is also intimately familiar with the Royals, pitching against the club with Tampa Bay, Colorado, Baltimore and Oakland before joining the Cubs. It was with the Athletics in 2014 that Hammel appeared in relief against Kansas City in their dramatic wild-card game won by the Royals in 12 innings.
Also on that Oakland team? Designated hitter Brandon Moss, who was introduced at Kauffman Stadium last week after signing a $12 million, two-year deal to replace Kendrys Morales in the lineup.
The Royals appeared to be content with their starting rotation, anchored by Ventura, Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy as they prepared for spring training. Jason Vargas was expected back after missing most of last season following Tommy John surgery, and general manager Dayton Moore anticipated several in-house candidates to compete through spring for the fifth starter job.
That all changed when Ventura’s car crashed on a stretch of highway leading to the town of Juan Adrian, about 40 miles northwest of Santo Domingo. The young pitcher, who signed a $23 million, five-year deal shortly before opening day in 2015, was pronounced dead at the scene.
That left a much bigger void in the starting rotation.
With only a couple weeks left before the Royals reported to Surprise, Arizona, Moore moved quickly to assess free-agent options. Hammel and Doug Fister were widely considered two of the best arms still available, but the Royals eventually turned their focus to the tall right-hander.
Hammel has a 4.42 ERA over parts of 11 seasons, though his best years have been his most recent. He 10-7 with a 3.74 ERA for the Cubs in 2015 before helping them to the championship last season.
Among the candidates for the final rotation spot are Nathan Karns, who was acquired from Seattle in a trade for Jarrod Dyson; Matt Strahm, who was electric out of the bullpen last season; Chris Young, who is trying to bounce back from a disastrous 2016 season; and youngsters Alex Mills, Miguel Almonte, Kyle Zimmer and Josh Staumont, all of whom may need more seasoning in the minors.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.
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