As I noted in last night’s Daily Duce, Jon Morosi was reporting, or at the very least tweeting, yesterday that the Chicago Cubs aren’t only willing to listen on offers for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel — the two pitchers most often linked to trade rumours so far this season — but on starters Edwin Jackson and Jake Arrieta as well. Chicagoland’s chief rumour monger, Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Sun Times might not be hearing some of the same things — he doesn’t say so, at least — but if Jackson and Arrieta’s availability were true, it would make sense, since, while it seems clear that the non-contending Cubs will move some kind of pitching this summer, Wittenmeyer reports that extension talks are being resumed between the club and Samardzija, their ace-that-sour-Toronto-fans-don’t-want-to-believe-is-an-ace.
The longer Samardzija has pitched into what is fast becoming his best season, the more he’s looking like the frontline pitcher many expected him to be, and the more outcry that has risen from an already grumbling fan base waiting for this rebuilding process to take traction.
Cubs officials wouldn’t comment on the subject Monday.
But the offer is believed to be for the same five years previously discussed by the parties, but at a higher number than the $60-million to $65-million range last on the table.
I’m not so sure that the fact that the fans are grumbling would be such a motivating factor for the smart and experienced front office that the Cubs employ, but if they can get him for the right dollar amount, there is obviously a lot to like in Samardzija, no matter how many Jays fans want to pretend he’s not quite as good as advertised. Granted, I’m not sure he’s the guy his 2.95 ERA (or his 2.95 FIP, or his 3.27 xFIP) makes him look, but I think a lot of the negatives about him can be misleading.
Yes, he’s pitching in the NL Central, which means he faces the Andrew McCutchens and Joey Vottos and Ryan Brauns and St. Louis Cardinals of the world more than he does the AL East’s Jackie Bradley Jrs, and Jonathan Schoops, and Anthony Goses *COUGH*, and he has the luxury of facing a pitcher a couple times per game. But actually if you look at the splits, pitchers have accounted for just seven of his 82 strikeouts this season, and his 21.8 K% against non-pitchers is just a hair below of the 22.0% it is in the overall. The dismal hitting numbers pitchers put up certainly inflates his numbers a little, so you wouldn’t expect him to be able to move to the American League and be exactly the same guy, statistically, but the whole “NL pitcher” narrative that has been drummed into the heads of local fans by hopeless old dupes is flat out wrong. For pretty much every Josh Beckett or Josh Johnson or R.A. Dickey there is an A.J. Burnett, a Hiroki Kuroda, and an Anibal Sanchez, who came to the AL and were absolutely fine. It’s almost like pitchers can be kinda volatile! It’s also almost like guys making the transition still have the same stuff, and the same ability to attack hitters that they always did, and aren’t undone by some magical American League force.
None of those things makes for a comprehensive argument, I recognize — I didn’t exactly begin this post trying to build the case for Samardzija, and a thing like that takes more time than cherry picking some examples like above — but the fact is, Samardzija is pretty seriously good, and his results are moving in the right direction towards his always-strong peripherals.
The name that’s mentioned by Wittenmeyer as a comparable is Homer Bailey, who signed a six-year, $105-million extension with the Reds back in February. However, Ken Rosenthal tweets that he’s surprised that Samardzija — who Wittenmeyer’s report stresses is not short on self-belief — might take a team-friendly deal, and thinks Matt Cain’s six-year, $127.5-million contract is probably more what he’s is looking for. Rosenthal adds that the Shark has a better career ERA than Bailey, and a “fresher arm,” which is mostly due to the fact that he spent his first years in the majors as a reliever. Bailey is a year younger, but has about 500 more pro innings on his arm. Cain, who is only four months older, has closer to 650 more.
The Cain comparison is brought up by Matt Snyder of CBS Sports, who also looks at today’s report, and makes cases for both trading Samardzija and extending him, neither of which will be music to Jays fans’ ears — especially the one where a bidding war ensues over the next several weeks.
What if the Rays don’t make David Price available? Samardzija will likely be the only thing resembling a frontline starter on the trade market this July. A bidding war between at least five teams wanting to upgrade for this season might result in a bit of a coup in terms of a prospect package.
Remember, the Cubs got third baseman Mike Olt (10 homers, 25 RBI right now, though an awful average), relievers Neil Ramirez (1.06 ERA, 26 K in 17 IP) and Justin Grimm (2.97 ERA, 31 K in 30 1/3 IP) along with now-top pitching prospect C.J. Edwards last season in exchange for a few months of Matt Garza. They even got Jake Arrieta (2-1, 2.09 ERA in eight starts) and Pedro Strop (3.92 ERA, 22 K in 20 2/3 IP) for Scott Feldman. Theoretically, Samardzija should be able to land even more in this climate — since the trading partner will get him for at least a season and a half.
Like I say, I like Samardzija, but not at any price. It’s going to be a tough, tough decision.
And yet, decisions may already be made in a lot of respects. Going back to Wittenmeyer’s report, we’re reminded that the Jays had two scouts on hand in Miami this week, watching starts from both Samardzija and Jason Hammel, and he tells us that “At least two teams, including the Jays, already have had preliminary trade talks involving potential players who would come back in a deal, according to sources.”
That may simply be the stuff we’ve heard all along — the Stroman/Sanchez stuff — so I’m not sure that there’s anything new here, but by every single report, the Jays are certainly interested. And for damn good reason! He’d be a hell of an addition to the club, for both this year and next. Yet that’s exactly what the Cubs have apparently started to think.
“That same rising trade value has caused the Cubs to rethink his replacement value as they look at the cost of acquiring a similar pitcher,” Wittenmeyer explains, “and whether somebody as good would even be available.”
Interesting. Posturing? It’s hard to say, but it sure is nice to not be debating whether or not the Jays should be sellers, isn’t it?
So… there’s that.