We've been hearing the Samardzija rumors for a while now. Expectations went from prospects as highly rated as Archie Bradley down to Aaron Sanchez and Nick Kingham, and then down to perhaps a package that contained a low upside MLB ready #4 type arm and a couple of low level, high risk/high reward prospects.
I've heard a wide range of opinion from industry sources. Some think he may be worth as much as a top 25 prospect and others more along the lines of the package I outlined above. Some may even think he's worth less than that.
We can argue all we want about what Samardzija's value is, but the only opinions that matter are those of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. And it appears that this front office values Samardzija highly.
They view him as more than just any #3 starter with 2 years of cost control. He's not your average mid-rotation guy. You won't find many #3 pitchers who can consistently hit 98 mph. His average fastball velocity has been among the top 3 starters in baseball over the past two seasons. He throws a splitter that is considered among the toughest pitches to hit in baseball. Hitters swung at 293 of Samardzija's splitters and whiffed on 145 of them. He misses bats -- a lot of them. That doesn't tell the whole story in terms of present day results, but sometimes that skill translates to greater things down the road.
He also has the athleticism to develop better command and the build to take on a huge workload. He's been healthy his entire career and has about half the career innings pitched that most starters his age have.
And while the results have been average or slightly above, the peripherals have been better than that . Samardzija ranks 17th in all of baseball in xFIP, a metric that measures those things a pitcher can control (strikeouts, walks) and normalizes the HR rate to that of the league average. That xFIP is better than that of Justin Verlander, James Shields, CC Sabathia, RA Dickey, and Jon Lester over the past two years.
Sure, he hasn't put it all together, but those numbers indicate that there may be a monster lying underneath. We've seen that monster at times and he can completely shut down the opposition.
But teams trying to trade for him will tell you he's just an average starter with some cost control. They'll tell you they don't notice any of that other stuff.
I can't help but think of another fireballing RHP who struggled to find consistency early in his career. In his age 27 season, he put up a 4.43 ERA (4.14 FIP, 3.70 xFIP) and a 2.6 WAR. He had a strikeout rate of 28.7%.
Last year, in his age 28 season Samardzija put up a 4.34 ERA (3.77 FIP, 3.45 xFIP), a 2.8 WAR, and a strikeout rate of 23.4%.
That first pitcher is Max Scherzer, who went on to be an 11 WAR pitcher over the next two seasons, including a 21-3 record with a 2.90 ERA and a Cy Young last season.
Like Samardzija, Scherzer was once more thrower than pitcher, but Scherzer has learned to harness his stuff and use it more efficiently. Can Samardzija do the same? I don't know. But the ability is there. He's competitive, athletic, and intelligent --who is to say he won't find a way to improve his approach and his knowledge of pitching? We've already seen him come a long way since his disastrous 2009 and 2010 campaigns out of the bullpen and turn himself into a an above average power SP. I'm not yet ready to count him out as far as taking another leap forward.
It certainly doesn't hurt much for the Cubs to wait to find out. If teams are offering the Cubs a trade package based on what they believe he already is, then it stands to reason that that value won't change much by July. Even if he doesn't improve, the Cubs can likely draw the same kind of offers they are getting now. There will be 4 months less of cost control, but when you have teams in a position to win working with a deadline, that seems to create a greater sense of urgency.
There are a number of ways things can unfold this season for Samardzija...
- He can stay at the same level and the team will be bad, in which case the Cubs can get the same kind of offers next July, anyway.
- He could stay at the same level and the team could improve -- and the Cubs may just want to hang on to an innings eater.
- He could improve and the team could stay bad. In that case his trade value increases.
- He could improve and the team could improve, in which case both sides may decide they want to get that extension done.
- He could get hurt and/or regress.
Four of those 5 things are about even or better. I like those odds and I'd rather take that risk than take a package that is less than what the Cubs believe his value to be.
Not only that, if you're only getting a package with two low level high risk/high reward players, then you should at least get one of those players back with your compensation pick, as Samardzija will certainly be worth the QO. As for that MLB ready low ceiling #4 SP, it doesn't seem hard to imagine the Cubs can develop that type of pitcher over the next two years within their own system.
If you reverse the situation, you can see this as a relatively low risk deal for the opposing team. You trade a surplus starter and two low-level guys, but the comp pick would replace the value of one of them. Basically that package amounts to trading starting depth and one low level/high risk/high reward pitcher. Why on earth wouldn't they make that kind of deal to get 2 years of a pitcher that is at least an innings eating #3? If I were Toronto, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, or Arizona and I'm looking to compete in the next two years, I wouldn't hesitate to create that kind of package for Samardzija.
I'm with the Cubs front office, here. It needs to cost more than that.
You want him? Come get him.
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