Jeff Samardzija looks in the mirror, sees an ace, and expects to be paid like one. Yesterday, on the first day of Cubs’ Spring Training, he told assembled reporters and beat writers that, “If there wasn’t a gap there I would have already signed.”
There is a gap, indeed. A gap between what Samardzija thinks he is and what he really is. What he really is is a pitcher who gave up five or more earned runs in eight of his 33 starts in 2013. He’s a guy who had an ERA+ of 91 last season. And he’s a guy, who as a starter the last two seasons, has a bWAR of 2.8.
For all of the talk about regression for Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro in 2013, it is genuinely amazing that Samardzija flew under the radar in that conversation. His BB% slid up from 7.8% in 2012 to 8.5% in 2013. His K% slid down from 24.9% to 23.4%. While some of that may be due to his stated desire to be more efficient and pitch to contact a bit more, another part of it was that he was a disaster after the trade deadline.
The most vocal malcontent about the Cubs selling off pieces at the deadline last season had a 5.56 ERA after the deadline, with a hefty .816 OPS allowed. The .347 BAbip could be bad luck, but with a line drive percentage at 27, I suspect some of it was the number of hard hit balls. When you consider that his line drive percentage was 21 before the deadline, his BAbip allowed was .300, and his OPS against was a much better .696, it appears that he either started to run out of gas or he threw out the string on a meaningless season. Neither of which are indicative of a front-line caliber pitcher.
Last July, Samardzija said, “Since the season started, I’ve found myself really involved in what’s going on here, with being a leader on the team, coming to work every fifth day ready to pitch.” That was true up until that point, on July 8th. For a player who wants to be paid like a front-line starter and a team leader, though, he is not performing at the level that should make Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer crack open the checkbook and pay him. In his comments yesterday, he was right about his 2014 performance being important. This season is ultimately put up or shut up time for Samardzija, who will either prove himself to be a building block or become a trade chip at the deadline.
Samardzija was also wrong about something. He said, “Both sides are justified.” While Samardzija may have the right to wait out an extension because he is under contract through the next two seasons, he can’t justify asking for more than teammate Edwin Jackson signed for at this point. His performance has been inconsistent, at best. And for a guy who’s been described as competitive, giving up six earned on a Wednesday against the Marlins as the season winds down is just as concerning as a complete game shut out against the White Sox on national television is impressive.
If the Cubs are going to get something out of him, this is the year we’re going to find out. He is either going to be the pitcher and leader that he has shown glimpses of and has talked about being, or he’s going to be another up and down pitcher, who the Cubs will look to flip to a contender in July, where they hope to make some GM pony up in the same way the Rangers did for Matt Garza last summer. Either way, “All of it comes down to production.”