Jeff Samardzija has looked very good at times this season. I don't think any of us would argue with that fact. He was the victim of the much publicized “winless streak” early this season, in which he never had an ERA over 2.00 but failed to get the all-so-important (pitcher) win until his 11th start.
But that's not news anymore. What is news is that the Cubs supposedly offered Samardzija a contract in the range of 5 years, $85 million. Samardzija reportedly said “no thanks” and has yet to make a counter offer. Enjoy watching him while you can, Cubs fans. We're probably just a few weeks away from a trade.
But what is Samardzija worth, really? I've written before on my own blog about trying to calculate his dollar value. In short, I found that pitchers that have put up similar numbers to his 2014 stats average a $13.6 million salary in 2015. With annual raises of 5%, that would put him at around 5 years, $75 million or 6 years, $91 million.
Sounds about right to me...if he can continue pitching like this. But a surprising amount of fans are split here. I've seen anything from some saying he's no better than a 3rd starter to those that claim he's a top pitcher in all of baseball, and that the Cubs are being cheap by low-balling him with insulting offers.
So what do the numbers suggest? His 2014 stats are very good, as mentioned. His ERA is 2.78, with a 2.89 FIP, 8.4 K/9, and 3.10 K/BB. However, in 2012 and 2013 his K/9 was higher (9.1) and his K/BB was close (2.94). His ERA and FIP over those seasons were 4.10 and 3.67 respectively. So which guy is he, really: the one with the sub-3 ERA or the one with the ERA around 4 that most consider a good 3rd starter?
Maybe our problem is that we don't have all the information yet. Here is Samardzija's ERA on June 1st the last three years, followed by his ERA at the end of the season:
2012- 3.09, 3.81
2013- 2.85, 4.34
2014- 2.54, ????
Those numbers suggest that there is a drop-off at some point after May. So how about some ERA by month stats for his career:
He does his best work in the early months of the season, when it's cold. As the weather warms, Samardzija quits pitching as much like an ace. Now I know that some of you guys are thinking “But Samardzija has been better this year! He's pitching like a true ace! He's not going to tail off like previous seasons!”
Well, prepare yourself for bubble bursting. Samardzija's 2014 ERA by the month:
Notice the bolded June ERA? Just imagine if the Cubs had offered Samardzija a similar contract to what Homer Bailey signed in the off-season, and that the trend continued and he ended the season similarly to the previous years.
Now, all we have is a pitcher with a track record of mediocre performance after Memorial Day and a massive contract that he doesn't deserve. That will certainly go over well with the meatballs, right? “Dis Smurja guy stinks! I've been a Cub fan over 40 years, BLAH BLAH BLAH!” No one cares, Mr. Afternoon-Radio-670THESCORE-Caller.
I think people need to just take a step back and realize what they're seeing. If it's true that the Cubs offered 5 years, $85 million dollars, Samardzija may have actually done the Cubs a favor by rejecting the deal. His track record certainly doesn't suggest that he's worth that kind of money.
For comparison, Matt Garza signed for 4 years, $50 million last off-season. Shark may be worth it moving forward, but what tangible evidence do we have? The assumption that he will get better, based on the fact that he's pitched less than most guys his age?
He'll be 30 next season. Even if you subtract 3 years (which is generous, considering we can't quantify how much lower his "pitching age" is), how many guys at age 27 or above get drastically better in their 4th year of starting in the Major Leagues? I'll wait while you compile your list.
As of right now, I'd say there's a 90% chance the Cubs deal Samardzija soon. Their asking price is high and it's likely that they'll bring back at least one very good prospect. I've seen it suggested that they could get two guys in the 50-75 range of the top 100 list.
If you can get that in return for a guy that doesn't seem interested in re-signing with you anyway, then turn around and spend some of that money on a guy like Jon Lester, James Shields, or even Justin Masterson (who likely is in the class below Samardzija as a pitcher, but will probably only cost half of what Shark wants), you've come out way ahead.
I hope this isn't misconstrued, and that people understand I do like Jeff Samardzija. I hope he and the Cubs can come to a reasonable deal for both sides to keep him around for the next few years.
The problem I have is that he wants to be paid like the ace that he's never proven to be. So for now it appears that the Cubs will gamble on prospects and the free agent market to fill his shoes. Samardzija will gamble on his own performance to earn his pay. For both of their sakes, I hope they're right.
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