If you look at it all wrong, Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs — remember him? who could forget?– has been having a pretty great start to the year, despite sporting an utterly meaningless 0-3 record. He’s pitched to a 1.62 ERA, allowing just nine earned runs over seven starts and 50.0 innings.
Peripherally, however, things look a bit strange, and not nearly so “great.” He’s doing all this with an unsustainably low HR/FB rate (5.3%), a very high strand rate (83.0%), a helpfully nifty BABIP (.271, compared to a career mark of .295), and a noticeable drop in his strikeout rate (38 in 50.0 innings, or 19.0%/6.84 K/9, compared to last year’s 23.4%/9.01 K/9, and even better rates in 2012, his first full year as a big league starter). Shit, and if we’re nitpicking, his velocity is also down one full tick from 2012, and his swinging strike rate — a category in which he ranked fifth among qualified starters in his 3.0 WAR 2012 season with a 12.1% rate — is at just 8.2%.
In other words, though yesterday he may have gone nine innings in a three-hit, 0 ER/1 R, seven strikeout, two walk performance that the Cubs ultimately wasted, he hasn’t been terribly Samardzija-like. And he certainly hasn’t appeared to be the number one starter he’s hoping to get paid as — at least according to Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago, who tells us that “contract talks between the Cubs and the pitcher’s agents stalled at the end of 2013,” because “a difference of opinion exists over the pitcher being a No. 1 or No. 3 starter going forward. As much as $20 million over five years might divide the two sides from reaching an agreement.”
So what, you ask? So, according to Levine (also: the title of this post), the contract dispute may not be the Cubs’ problem for long. It may be the Jays’ problem.
The Toronto Blue Jays have continued to pursue Samardzija in a deal that would bring back an inventory of young pitchers for the Cubs, if a contract is not agreed upon soon. Toronto had top scout Jim Beattie at Monday’s game. The Cubs have had scouts watching Blue Jay minor league pitchers since the beginning of spring training.
We heard all winter that the supposed asking price was something on the level of Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez — six full big league years of each in exchange for just two from Samardzija. Good for Chicago for asking, I guess, but… yeah, it’s nuts, and surely the main reason Samardzija is still putting on a Cubs uniform every day. Add in the fact that the Jays have now lost seven starts from him, and such a price truly seems nuttier still — and that’s without even considering what sort of handouts the club would have to ask from its own players in order to add Samardzija and his $5.345-million salary to the payroll.
At the same time, you could be forgiven for wondering, and worrying, just how desperate to win Alex Anthopoulos may be right now. He’s lost Brandon Morrow, his job is very likely on the line, and he’s staring at an AL East that remains very much there for the taking. It’s not crazy to think that, at the right price, he would entirely be interested in making a major splash like this. It’s just… what’s the right price? Certainly not Stroman and Sanchez — especially given what Samardzija’s peripherals are showing — but maybe there’s some kind of deal there to be made using other pieces.
Anthopoulos, to his credit, this winter avoided the further blowing up of his successor’s farm system in vain pursuit of a difference-making starter, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t consider it, or that he won’t still consider it. I don’t think Samardzija, given the price reportedly being asked, makes a whole lot of sense for this in-limbo team right now, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t make a whole at some point — and shit, maybe it’s better for the Jays to be looking to deal now, rather than when they get desperate enough that the Cubs can smell it.
Colour me skeptical, in other words, but maybe not outright dismissive of the idea altogether.
So… there’s that.