As we move into June, and past the amateur draft next week, trade winds are going to start blowing just a bit harder than they have been over the first two months of the season. With so few teams being “out of it” with the addition of the second wild card, the Cubs should be in a good spot to land a nice return for Jeff Samardzija.
There are some things that could muddy the waters of the Shark market. The potential that the Rays look to trade David Price is one. Another is whether a team would look to acquire a rental pitcher, like James Shields, for a smaller prospect cost.
In this “power ranking” format, the criteria for the rankings were: perceived need, potential to make the playoffs, prospects that would match what the Cubs could be looking for in return, and potential alternatives to acquiring Samardzija. What was not factored in was whether the team has been reported to have heavy interest or rumored to have interest at all, although, based on how the rankings shook out, the teams we’ve heard most about are the teams who landed closest to the top.
1. Baltimore Orioles
Of all of the teams who could look to acquire Samardzija, the Orioles claim the top spot for two reasons. The first is that, with the AL East looking as winnable as ever, they have every incentive to go for it. The second is the group of young, controllable, projectable pitchers they have in their system. Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Hunter Harvey, and Eduardo Rodriguez are all highly regarded prospects. Bundy and Gausman are particularly attractive because of their proximity to the majors, having both made their debuts. Bundy is still on the comeback trail from Tommy John Surgery, but he could be an absolute stud at the top of a rotation. That combination, an open AL East and arms, gives Baltimore the early nod as the top Samardzija suitor.
2. Atlanta Braves
The Braves have not had issues with pitching, at all. Actually, their pitching has been really good. But I don’t trust it. Aaron Harang is still Aaron Harang. And they, too, have some pieces that could interest the Cubs, like Lucas Sims, Christian Bethancourt, and J.R. Graham. Their rash of injuries worries me. And I would bet it worries them. Samardzija is a big, strong pitcher with a clean injury history. It’s a match made for a deal.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays drop to number 3 because Alex Anthopoulos makes me nervous (see previous blog here). He may actually mean that he is in the market for a rental, doesn’t want to keep dealing his pitching prospects, and is tapped out financially. Then again, everybody lies. If, like the Orioles, the division leading Jays think they have a chance to steal the division crown, they have Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman to use as chips. I don’t believe him, but Anthopoulos has my attention, and for that reason, the Jays are third. If not for all of what he’s said, they may be the early pace-setter.
4. Boston Red Sox
Ah, one of the big boys make an appearance. In spite of a 10 game slide, the Sawx are still only 6.5 out of first place. And they have pieces, like Henry Owens, who was one of the last top picks of the Epstein era in Boston and Allen Webster, who was a rumored piece in the Ryan Dempster talks two years ago when Webster was in the Dodgers organization. The Red Sox are almost always buyers. This year shouldn’t be any different in a still open AL East.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are a bit of an anomaly in the top five. Their rotation is pretty good. But I think they may remember the NLCS last year, and how it wouldn’t hurt to have just one more starter in October. They have trade chips, too. With Joc Pederson, Julio Urias, and Zach Lee, there is plenty of ammunition to make the Cubs listen. The Dodgers have championship aspirations, and that drives teams to do big things in the middle of summer.
6. San Francisco Giants
The Giants are also a bit of an anomaly on this list, but like the Dodgers, they too have championship aspirations. Tim Lincecum is not his old, reliable self, and hasn’t been for some time. The system is a bit weak, but the prospects they do have are something the Cubs could be in the hunt for. Kyle Crick, Edwin Escobar, and Andrew Susac are all potential targets for the Cubs in a trade with the Giants. Although it would leave their system without much left, the Giants may be willing to make a move if they can see another champagne party in their future.
7. Miami Marlins
The Marlins probably would have found their way up this list without the injury to Jose Fernandez. The loss of that pitcher makes them a bit less likely to go for it this year, but remaining so close to the top of the division may give them pause. Like the Giants, their system isn’t loaded, but they have some solid pieces, notably Andrew Heaney. If the Marlins maintain their position within striking distance, don’t put it past them to do something big in an effort to convince their fan(s) it was a good idea to build that new ballpark.
8. Colorado Rockies
A down stretch on the field has pushed the Rockies down this list. They’re still in the conversation in the NL West, but if they continue to play poorly (3-7 in their last 10), they’ll fall off the list altogether. That’s a real shame, too, because Eddie Butler and Jon Gray are good starting points in a trade discussion for Samardzija.
9. New York Yankees
The Evil Empire is always in the discussion. But they are in the bottom half of the list for a reason. Actually, two reasons. The first is that, in spite of some popular belief that they could make the move, I do not think they have the near major league ready prospects that it would take to land Samardzija, nor do I think they necessarily want to make a move that would strip a weak farm system down to nothing. Masahiro Tanaka has been everything they’ve hoped and then some. But their other pitching isn’t very inspiring. It takes more than two to get there. I doubt it, but maybe the Yankees stand pat this summer.
10. Oakland Athletics
It is hard to envision Oakland being a good fit for two reasons: They would have a hard time retaining Samardzija after next season, and the Cubs want pitching the A’s just don’t seem to have. Not at the prospect level, anyway. Their major league pitching is getting the job done. For, so lack of need, lack of return for the Cubs, and lack of the Money Ball Club to hanging on to him, I think the A’s are probably a real long shot.
11. Texas Rangers
Well, the Rangers and Cubs certainly have matched up in the past. But this year is different. The Rangers have a ton of injuries. The A’s are running away with the division. The Rangers have sent a lot of their prospects to the Cubs already, including last summer’s Matt Garza deal…which had GM Jon Daniels expressing buyer’s remorse. It just doesn’t look like there’s a 3-peat in the making here…no matter how much we want Joey Gallo and Jorge Alfaro.
12. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners spent. They could use some pitching. They’re only 6.5 games back. They want to go for it. It just doesn’t appear that they have the pieces to compete with other teams to acquire Samardzija. Taijuan Walker is not a realistic return. The match would be better if they had a better group of prospects to offer, and if they weren’t hanging around the Cubs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
13. Chicago White Sox
A Sale/ Samardzija duo would be fun to watch on the South Side. It just doesn’t look like the White Sox are a prospect match. And the Tigers are making that division very difficult to hope for. The Sox are still 6 back after the Tigers have had a bit of a slide. Detroit will find their stride again…and the Sox will fall even further behind. No deal.
14. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are in the hunt. They have young pitching. A lot of that young pitching, however, is at the major league level. I don’t think I see a big need for the Cardinals. There is a chance, if he becomes available, the Cardinals jump in the ring for David Price. It’s cringe-worthy. None of this is underscores how tough it is to make a deal with a (hated) division rival, on either side. For all of those reasons, it doesn’t look like we’ll see Shark as a Red Bird.
15. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers do have some young pitching. They also have a ton of major league pitching. It is hard to envision a deal with the Tigers because the need is low. Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, Porcello, Smyly…With guys like that, there’s no good reason to sell the farm for another arm.
16. Milwaukee Brewers
In every way imaginable, the Brewers have caught lightning in a bottle. They’ve gotten good pitching, good hitting, and have played some teams at the right time. Doug Melvin may know he needs more pieces to really make the push to October. The thing is, they don’t have any currency to get those pieces. If the Cubs were to entertain the Brewers, Wily Peralta would almost certainly have to be on the table. It’s not a match because of division complications and the Brewers farm system being comically poor anywhere above Class A.
17. Los Angeles Angels
The Angels are another team who has spent to win now. Another pitcher wouldn’t hurt them. But the only team who may have a worse farm system than the Brewers is the Angels. If they had more prospect pieces to make a deal, they would be much higher on this list. It just doesn’t appear that they have the ammunition to take a realistic shot at Samardzija.