By now everyone who paid attention to the atrocious 2012 Cubs season knows one of the few bright spots was the successful first phase of the great Jeff Samardzija experiment. Except for a stretch in the middle of the season where he was trying out a curveball that didn’t want to curve right, Jeff actually didn’t suck that much. You definitely want to keep the guy around to see what else he has left.
And then, of course, Gordon Wittenmeyer has to wax poetic and suggest that Cubs “sources” want to sign Samardzija to a long-term contract. After I extracted my palm from my face and cleaned up some vomit, I decided to think about it a bit more…
According to multiple sources, the Cubs have reached out to Samardzija about the possibility of exploring a multiyear deal with the big right-hander, who’s arbitration-eligible after making an impressive transition from the bullpen to the rotation.
‘‘I’m not going to comment on it, but [Samardzija has] had a great year, and certainly he’s a guy we hope is in a Cubs uniform for a long time,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said during the general managers meetings.
That’s not a lot of information to go on from Gordo’s article. His source could pretty well be the voice inside his head or him taking Hoyer’s comment way out of context, as Jed could just mean that they’re taking a slow approach to observe Samardzija to make sure he doesn’t regress to the pre-2012 suckfest that we’ve come to expect before he almost inexplicably stopped sucking this past season.
There are two major concerns I have about this, and I realize that I am not nearly as smart as the guys in charge, but let’s lay them out anyway. For one, we need to worry about durability. Samardzija’s arm is still developing due to his past as a dual-sport athlete, and his previous innings high before 2012’s 174.2 IP was 141.2 over a minor league year. The 174.2 IP was up from 88 IP in 2011. Before you sign him to a long-term deal, you have to make sure his arm doesn’t explode.
Secondly, Samardzija may have had a solid season but his ERA+ for 2012 was 103, which is around average. There is absolutely value in having a guy who can eat innings for you and not completely suck while doing so, but average production shouldn’t necessitate a hasty decision especially when the guy is still arbitration-eligible and cost-controlled until after the 2015 season. That coupled with the previous sucky Samardzija production should tell the Cubs to be careful about where they throw their money.
As an arbitration-eligible player, Samardzija is projected to earn $2.9MM in 2013 (not taking into account haggling) which is plenty affordable. The durability and sustainability issues should definitely be considered as they have three years of cost control in which they can find out if the arm can hold up and also if he stays at least above average as a starter.
The two team-friendly deals I thought about when I saw the rumors of an extension were those for Scott Baker and Ryan Vogelsong. Scott Baker is sort of a middling starter for the Twins (and has been recovering from Tommy John surgery, possibly a Paul Maholm-type signing for the Cubs this offseason too) who received a 4 year/$15.25MM deal covering the past four seasons. Ryan Vogelsong came back from Japan in 2011, didn’t suck, then got a two year deal worth $8.3MM with a third year option and proceeded to pitch to an ERA+ of 103 (shades of Samardzija!) while helping the Giants win the World Series. If the Cubs can keep the extension reasonable for the type of pitcher Samardzija would be expected to be, then sure, go for it. It’s relatively inexpensive and you can save some money over his arbitration raises.
The flip side is whether Samardzija believes he’s better than what they would give him. If this extension is any more than four years and more than $4.5MM per season then I’d just go year-to-year and fish him out in trade every now and then. I’m no GM but I’d need more than one season of semi-awesome before I put that big of an investment in a guy who previously showed me very little.
Here’s hoping they choose wisely.