Before anyone freaks out, we’ll preface this with a disclaimer. Among many reports, the Cubs have been trying to hammer down an extension with Jeff Samardzija for a while, but Jeff has been resistant to a long-term deal at this time. Part of the reason is that he has been paid handsomely over his career so far and doesn’t really need the money, and part of it is because he knows he is better than whatever lowball offer the Cubs are trying to get him to sign as they did with Anthony Rizzo this season and Starlin Castro last season. Jeff is going to be in the Cubs’ plans for the foreseeable future and thus a trade is very unlikely.
That doesn’t mean we can’t use this as a thought exercise. If Jeff Samardzija is the top-of-the-rotation pitcher we think he is–or rather, who the Cubs think he is since they’re the ones who matter–then he will be worthy of the big money coming to him. However, if there is any question as to his sustainable production, then it’s in the interest of the front office to explore the trade avenues anyway.
We know that Jeff Samardzija is 28 years old this season, has two more years of arbitration eligibility after this one and cannot declare free agency until at least 2016. This season, he has made 10 starts and most of them have been solid-to-spectacular despite his terrible win-loss record (it’s not his fault he can’t hit homers all the time). The walk rate is manageable, strikeouts are up, his fielding-independent metrics are outstanding and he’s keeping the ball on the ground and in the park. Jeff Samardzija may not be a true #1 pitcher, but he’s got everything you want in a top-of-the-rotation guy. This season he’s also only making $2.64MM (“only”) which is the same amount he made last season. I was actually surprised that he didn’t get a small raise after his breakout season in 2012, but it’s still a good amount of money and I figure that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are good negotiators.
With few still-in-their-prime pitchers available prior to this season’s trade deadline, the Cubs have a couple options in Scott Feldman and Matt Garza (which we discussed the other day) that they can dangle for contending clubs. I believe at this point that Jeff Samardzija, while not as established as Garza, is probably the most attractive of the Cubs’ pitchers in terms of the service time and age (as discussed above) and also his overall “stuff” and production so far. Might Jeff be able to bring back a B/B+ prospect from a team that needs pitching help not just this year, but long-term? Unlike with Garza and Feldman, Samardzija would certainly not be a rental.
It’s hard to say what amount of money Samardzija would command on the open market, but suffice it to say that it will be a lot. His arm isn’t as worn down as other pitchers who have devoted more of their athletic careers towards the craft, and so he might have many more years left that would certainly be worth investing in. The difficulty in being the GM is weighing whether they want to invest in that arm (and it’s looking like a damned good arm right now) or if they want to allocate those resources towards something else that will build the next Cubs contender. It is very likely given what has been said that Jeff Samardzija will be a part of that core, but don’t be surprised, given his apparent value, if Jeff’s name turns up in rumors come June and July.