Trade Deadline Most Wanted: Jeff Samardzija

Cubs RHP Jeff Samardzija
Cubs RHP Jeff Samardzija

With a little over four weeks remaining until the trade deadline, rumors of names heading to contending teams are starting to heat up. One name rumored to be on the move, for what seems like years, is Chicago Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija. After earning $5.35 million in his second year of arbitration, Samardzija will be eligible for arbitration one more time in 2015 prior to reaching free agency. At 29, Samardzija is eight months older than Rays trade-bound ace David Price, but he has logged 438 fewer innings than Price due to his time in the bullpen over his first four seasons (128 appearances, just five starts).

While Samardzija doesn’t have the wear and tear on his arm that Price has, he also doesn’t have the resume. That doesn’t mean that Samardzija is chopped liver, though. The former Notre Dame football standout is the 23rd most valuable pitcher in baseball since moving to the starting rotation in 2012 (FanGraphs WAR). Since moving to the rotation full-time9.01 K/9 ranks 9th among qualifiers, his 3.54 FIP ranks 27th in MLB despite his ERA (3.83) ranking 55th, and his 496.1 innings rank 24th in MLB.

Samardzija1The teams that Samardzjia has pitched for shouldn’t be discounted, as well. The Cubs are 163-243 (.401) since the start of the 2012 season, while Samardzija is just 19-33 (.365) during that stretch. The 2014 season, however, has been Samardzija’s best, despite his 2-7 record. His 2.83 ERA (3.06 FIP) and his 1.20 WHIP are the best of his career as a starter (WHIP is career-best). While his strikeouts are down slightly (8.6/9 IP in 2014 compared to 9.0/9 IP in 2013), his walks are down to a career-best 2.6/9 IP, and his ERA+ is at 135, best in his career.

The Cubs are likely looking to significantly cash in if and when they deal Jeff Samardzija. While the club has prospects like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara, Jorge Soler, Albert Almoraand Kyle Schwarber to build around as positional prospects, only C.J. Edwards (who is battling a shoulder issue after being acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza deal last season) appears to be an above-average arm in the system currently, though Pierce Johnson and Paul Blackburn could be decent back-end options. The club drafted heavy on pitching, as 20 of their 40 picks in June’s MLB Draft were pitchers, but Chicago could use some near-ready talent with so many of their top position players at the upper levels of the minors.

So, who appears to be a good fit for a deal? As Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported a couple of weeks ago:

Toronto: The Blue Jays are the top team in baseball who appear to need pitching depth, as they sit one game up on Baltimore in the AL East with veterans Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey leading the way as Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman take on larger roles. With Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, and Alberto Tirado ranking near the top of the Jays system and all three being mid-to-top-of-the-rotation arms, Toronto seems to be a logical fit.

San Francisco: The Giants quickly tumbled out of first place in the NL West, but the problem with their rotation is Matt Cain, who is 1-6 with a 4.38 ERA and 4.51 FIP, both the worst of the current starting five; however, Cain likely isn’t going anywhere with his $20 million salary and the guaranteed three-years and $67.5 million remaining on his deal from 2015 to 2017. Ryan Vogelsong is a free agent after the season, and, while he has pitched well at times, he would likely get the boot from the rotation if the Giants were to acquire Samardzija. The Giants have several solid pitching prospects, with Kyle Crick, Edwin Escobar, Adalberto Mejia, and Clayton Blackburn as potential pitching targets for the Cubs.

Los Angeles Angels: Unless the Angels were willing to part with Garrett Richards, who is eligible for arbitration for the first time in 2015 and won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season, the Angels don’t have the prospects to make a deal. It is interesting that they keep showing up in rumors considering the state of their farm system.

Baltimore: The Orioles have pitching out the wazoo, with Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, and Hunter Harvey having “future ace” labels on them. With Eduardo Rodriguez and Mike Wright have had less than stellar seasons in the Orioles’ system, but could be nice secondary pieces.

New York Yankees: Luis Severino and prospects with injury issues: Jose Campos, Manny Banuelos, and Jose Ramirez, top the Yankees farm on the pitching side, but the Cubs could be interested in a catching prospect like Gary Sanchez as a piece to build around, as they don’t have an elite future option behind the dish with Schwarber likely to move from behind the plate.

Boston: The Red Sox have a lot of pitching options in their system in Henry Owens, Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, and Trey Ball. It’s quite possible any of those five could do a better job than Jake Peavy and Clay Buchholz are doing this season. Regardless, if Boston is serious about contending, they’ll likely part with some of their young talent for a more proven commodity like Samardzija, even if they could get similar production over the next two seasons from one of the prospects if they stood pat.

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