We're going through the basic machinations of a hot stove rumor with the Jeff Samardzija trade talks. The Blue Jays and Diamondbacks are the two most talked about suitors and it would appear that the Cubs would like to either extend or trade Shark before the Winter Meetings.
While the process itself is a bit predictable (rebuilding team puts best pitcher on open market to see who bites) the substance of the story fascinates me.
There are a lot of varied opinions on what Samardzija is exactly. I've talked to writers who believe he's a #1 pitcher, I've talked to others who think he's a middle of the rotation guy whose stuff occasional plays up to frontline starter. Now that he's on the market it's been interesting to read what the Cubs community thinks he will command in a trade.
I think to fully understand what type of haul a trade can bring back we have to first understand what kind of pitcher Jeff Samardzija is.
Ace or not?
Over the past two seasons Samardzija has pitched 388.1 innings carrying a 4.10 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and a 2.94 K-BB ratio. He's had stretches that tease a greater future for him. The issue is that those stretches tend to remain just teases. We're operating with only two years of starter data but to date Samardzija has had difficulty pulling together his stuff with consistency.
In 2013 Samardzija was two pitchers. From April until his CGSO against the White Sox on May 27 Shark pitched 72.2 innings and posted a 2.85 ERA. He struck out 80 over that stretch while walking 24. Opponents put up a meager .196/.268/.313 slash line against Samardzija over that stretch.
From June on, however, Samardzija had a 5.11 ERA in 141 innings of work. Opponents hit .284/.352/.458 against him over that span. Samardzija had a few meltdown starts (or disaster starts) in there which balanced out the few dominant starts he did have down the stretch.
As it stands, Shark is the best pitcher on the Cubs (yes, even including Travis Wood). But that doesn't make him an Ace in the sense that he isn't an elite pitcher. Jeff Samardzija is probably best slated as a middle of the rotation guy. He's someone that can shove when he's on and it won't hurt you too bad if your #3 starter has a few rocky outings here and there. Shark is weird in that he'll be 29 when Opening Day rolls around but there's still some room for some projection with his arm.
I don't think this is as good as Samardzija can be, but it's pretty close, in my estimation. While there are low miles on his arm there's also missing development time that's unlikely to be recouped as he gets older.
While I don't have insight into the extension negotiations involving the Cubs and Samardzija I do have past experience to draw on when it comes to this front office extending core pieces. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro got inked to brand new extensions with almost zero trade speculation attached to their names. This makes me wonder if the Cubs and Samardzija are far apart in contract negotiations and if Shark thinks of himself a bit more highly than I do.
Don't get me wrong, you want a pitcher who thinks he's one of the best out there. Players need confidence to survive the 162 game grind and Samardzija appears to have it. But, if it were my money I wouldn't be falling over myself to back up the Brinks truck for him for the reasons I've expressed.
So, what do you trade for a middle of the rotation starter with good enough stuff to play like a frontline guy for stretches?
First, read this article from Draysbay, an SB Nation site that covers the Tampa Rays.
If you're lazy and want the TL;DR version here's the most important quote from the link:
What does this tell us? It shows that teams who need to add more quality starting pitching are willing to give up a significant amount of value in prospects and young players in order to tack on a few extra wins.
There's a team out there that's on the cusp of competing or needs to shore up it's pitching staff and will be more than willing to aggressively pursue Samardzija. The Baltimore Orioles immediately come to mind and while a trade for Matt Wieters seems odd on the surface it's important to note that he is unlikely to be the only piece in a trade for Shark.
We've all heard the rumors involving the Toronto Blue Jays putting together a potential package. While they haven't made a publicly official offer I think the Jays are a team that will also aggressively pursue Samardzija ahead of the Winter Meetings. Arizona is also said to be in the mix and they have a collection of arms that would be intriguing to a Cubs system that lacks true impact starting pitcher prospects.
Should the Cubs decide to trade Samardzija there will be teams willing to give up young players and prospects in return. I believe that the Cubs will need a serious injection of young pitching talent in the coming years if the self sustaining model of constant competition is to be realized. While trading Samardzija would be a step backwards in the short term I think it has the potential to be an extremely beneficial move for the Cubs in the long term if the right pieces are sent back Chicago's way.
Given what this front office has done in terms of prospect talent acquisition I have no reason to doubt them when it comes to any trade involving Jeff Samardzija.