Yesterday's uninspiring return for Doug Fister, a pitcher who is just one year older than Jeff Samardzija, has the same amount of cost control, and greater success was just traded for a pitcher many feel will be a 4th starter (Robbie Ray), a reliever (Ian Krol), and a utility infielder (Steve Lombardozzi) is making some think twice about dealing Jeff Samardzija. Maybe the Rangers liked Ray more than others. Maybe they were trying to save money. Whatever the case, in a vacuum, the return is not enough for a pitcher of Fister's production and value.
The Cubs do not believe the Fister deal will affect any potential Samardzija deal much -- if at all. I think they'll do much better. But, at the same time, we've been acting like this should be a slam dunk decision. Maybe it isn't.
It depends on what you are looking for in the long term.
Today Jim Bowden suggested 4 trades and none involve an elite level top of the rotation type prospect -- unless you believe Daniel Norris or Albert Tirado may someday reach that status, which is possible, but both are at the lower levels right now and have much work to do. If you were looking to upgrade on Jeff Samardzija, that is far from a safe bet to happen. What the Cubs can gain out of a deal at this point is cost control with what will hopefully be another potential #3 pitcher plus a couple of higher ceiling/higher risk guys. Barring an expanded deal where the Cubs add significant value, that near MLB ready top of the rotation guy isn't coming here in a deal.
What it effectively does then is it just buys the Cubs more time, but it doesn't necessarily make it better for the future in terms of just pure talent alone. Whatever you think of Samardzija, he is at worst a mid rotation innings eater, a #3 starter who is healthy and will take the ball every 5th day. The same cannot be said about some of the prospects being bandied about as potential return.
The question now shifts to whether the Cubs should trade Samardzija at all.
Yesterday Julie DiCaro reported that the two sides have gotten a little closer in contract talks and my feeling yesterday was that the Cubs should at least consider keeping their de facto ace. There is certainly no hurry to do any of the kinds of deals the Tigers did. I have spoken with some that feel the Cubs should be able to get a top 25 prospect (though that opinion is not shared by everyone) for the hard throwing pitcher. And I can also say that there are some in the industry who have told me they would keep Jeff Samardzija rather than trade him -- and this was before the Tigers/Nats trade.
Maybe that's the best course of action to take right now. But it depends on what your expectations are in any potential trade.
As mentioned, Samardzija is a healthy innings eater at worst and he can be flat-out dominant when he has command with his fastball and consistency with his slider. I have been told by one scout that he needs to tone down his aggressive approach, that he essentially pitches like a closer for every single inning, even every pitch.
But nobody really questions his stuff, his competitiveness, or his ability to take on the big load for the long term. Samardzija has only been starting for 2 seasons. Is it unreasonable to assume he can gain some consistency and refine his approach?
Moreover, why can't he be a long term piece? He has half the career innings of most starting pitchers his age. His peripherals indicate there is potential for better results. And there is no doubt that his makeup and work ethic. While we can't be assured he will improve, we can safely bet that Samardzija will continue to work at it relentlessly.
So who says the Cubs should be locked into trading him? What if they were to keep Samardzija, make a play for Masahiro Tanaka, and perhaps deal for someone like Brett Anderson? That suddenly looks like a rotation that is as good as any in the NL Central...
- Masahiro Tanaka
- Jeff Samardzija
- Travis Wood
- Edwin Jackson
- Brett Anderson
Maybe you trade Jackson instead and work Jake Arrieta into the rotation. Or Kyle Hendricks. Or any number of 5th starter type prospects the Cubs have on the brink of contributing, as Mauricio outlined earlier today. That would give the Cubs an all under 30 rotation that should still be productive when the Cubs hitters are ready to give the team some balance.
Whatever they decide, there is nothing to say the Cubs need to make a deal right now and they certainly shouldn't make one if they cannot get the kind of value they seek.
To be clear, I'm not saying the Cubs need to shut the door on a trade. I'm only saying they don't need to close the door on re-signing him. There is more than one way to build a contender. It seems to me that this is a different situation than Matt Garza because the Cubs are further along in terms of their foundation -- and they had every intention of trying to keep Samardzija. That never really seemed to be the case with Garza. It indicates they value Samardzija more in the long term as well as their potential to compete in the next few years.
At the same time, it depends on how feasible it is to sign Samardzija. His present value begins to decay the longer they hold on to him as the acquiring team loses cost control and eventually, draft pick comp if the Cubs wait as long as they did with Garza. The Cubs should not assume they will be able to wait until the last minute, make the same kind of trade, and recoup the kind of surplus long term value as they did with the Rangers on the Garza deal. But they should be able to get substantially more than that if they trade him now.
It's still pretty split among many fans as to whether the Cubs should keep or trade Samardzija. I don't think it should be that black and white. the Cubs should do whatever makes them better in the short term in a way that doesn't affect the long term. And whether or not that long term plan includes Samardzija will depend on whether the Cub can get better value by extending him or trading him.
Just know that as it stands now, it looks like the Cubs will likely not upgrade their rotation if you are evaluating the deal on talent alone. What they will do is gain value through cost control and multiple pieces, with the hope that somewhere in that package, they can get at least another mid-rotation level starter while, at the same time, saving money they can spend on other needs. The hope is always to get a front line, near MLB ready, cost-controlled pitcher in return, but that is improbable. They may be able to get a couple of lower level guys with higher end potential, but far enough away that they entail a significant amount of risk that they may never reach that ceiling.
As long as you're okay with that scenario, then you should be excited about a potential Samardzija trade. But if you're expecting that the Cubs will get their ready made, future ace for the next decade, you will almost certainly be disappointed.