There were a few converted relievers who found success moving into starting roles in 2012. Chris Sale looked like one of the best pitchers in baseball for the better part of the season, and Kris Medlen flourished after he transitioned to starting in late July. Unlike the aforementioned former relievers, Jeff Samardzija did not pitch for a contender. He pitched for the Chicago Cubs. Samardzija pitched well in 2012, but he’s not about to negotiate a long-term deal based on the potential he flashed in his first season as a starter.
The Cubs avoided arbitration with Samardzija, signing him to a one-year deal worth $2.64 million in January. Both the pitcher and the team plan on being a part of one another’s future, but “Shark” would like the Cubs to get a look at what he can do with a full season to his credit before discussing term and dollars.
Samardzija on his future in Chicago, via Carrie Muskat of MLB.com:
“We both want me to be here, and we want to be a part of this team for a long time. When we feel we’re on the same page with that, then we’ll get it done.
I still haven’t proven myself to where I want to be as a player,” he said. “I was happy with last year but I don’t want to stay there, I want to improve and get better. I think the more I show them that, the more comfortable they’ll be with getting a deal done. [Contract discussions are] not even close to the front of the burner right now.
It doesn’t make much sense to sit down and try to negotiate anything out when I don’t have a full season under my belt,” he said. “Now we’re just talking potential.”
“Just talking potential” might be a bit of an understatement, especially when we consider just how good Samardzija was last season. The 6’5″ right-hander threw 174.2 innings before he was shutdown early in September. He finished with some impressive numbers, including a 3.81 ERA; 3.55 FIP, and 3.38 xFIP. Now, allow me to cherry pick a few other numbers to provide a little more context to the rise of Samardzija. The former Notre Dame wide receiver posted the fifth best SwStr% with 12.1%, the fourth best K/9 rate at 9.27, and the seventh highest K% at 24.9%.
Jeff Samardzija might be pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good. Also, he does this:
Samardzija may be wise in deferring contract talks, but there’s the ever present risk of injury to worry about too. Aside from a slight problem with the long ball (compounded by his 12.8% HR/FB ratio), and the occasional walk party, Samardzija was rather excellent in 2012. As long as his body holds up in his second season as a starter, there’s little reason to bet against Samardzija establishing himself as a top end of the rotation guy.
As a hard-throwing 28-year old armed with one of baseball’s nastiest splitters, Samardzija could be primed to become a major piece of the rebuilding Cubs moving forward. If his plans on upstaging his breakout performance of 2012 materialize, then Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer might want to ready that money truck sooner than later.