The Sense In Waiting to Trade Jeff Samardzija

The Chicago Cubs have had two sets of negotiations involving Jeff Samardzija. The two sides have talked about a long-term extension — so far nothing’s been agreed to — and the sides seem pretty far apart. The front office also has fielded some trade offers, and while you can never be entirely certain about rumors, certain reports have painted the asking price as astronomical. From the Toronto Blue Jays, the Cubs supposedly wanted Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and more. From the Braves, the Cubs supposedly wanted Justin Upton or Jason Heyward. Even if the names are off, the message is clear: the Cubs are looking for a massive haul. Last year, Samardzija posted a worse ERA than Kevin Correia and Jeremy Hefner.

It’s been suggested the Cubs want more for Samardzija than the Rays have been looking for in return for David Price. Samardzija, of course, isn’t as good as Price. On the other hand, he’s considerably cheaper, and Samardzija isn’t coming off a season with an arm injury. His big-league health history is clean. So it’s not an outlandish position, but nothing’s been agreed to yet, because no one’s been willing to give up what the Cubs have wanted. More recent reports have suggested the Cubs intend to revisit the Samardzija trade market in the middle of the season. At first, it seems like this could only deflate Samardzija’s value. It would, after all, leave him with less time to make a contribution to a new employer. But there are good reasons for the Cubs to stick to their guns. Come June or July, they could still turn Samardzija into a blockbuster.

Something to establish right away: Teams like Jeff Samardzija, and that’s why he’s in demand. They like him because he’s really good. He’s not ace-good, but he’s not Correia-mediocre. The strikeouts are there. He throws in the mid-90s with multiple secondary pitches. His xFIP- two years ago was 87, and his xFIP- last year was 92. He also threw more than 200 innings. His runs haven’t quite matched his peripherals, and he’s given up a few too many dingers, but teams are increasingly willing to look beyond those things. Samardzija feels like a hell of a talent. He’s getting paid just over $5 million this year, and next year he stands to make something like $8 million to $10 million, which isn’t much for a front-of-the-rotation kind of starter. If you know what “surplus value” means, Samardzija has some. The days of the market caring too much about ERA are over.

And besides, if the Cubs hang on to Samardzija for a few months, there’s a good chance his ERA comes in line with the rest of his statistics. And then he’d be a power starter with strikeouts and a mid-3.00 ERA, and that’s generally what every team in playoff contention wants to add.

Anyhow, there are two reasons why it could make sense for the Cubs to wait on this. The first has to do with that win-curve argument again. If Samardzija were traded now, he’d be with a new team for 12 months, plus up to two months of the playoffs. If he were traded, say, at the beginning of this July, he’d be with a new team for nine months, plus up to two months of the playoffs. That would represent some reduction in value, since Samardzija, for 2014, wouldn’t be making a full-season contribution.

But that can be offset. Right now, we think we have a decent idea of the teams that will be in the hunt. In the middle of the season, we’ll know which teams are in the hunt. Teams will know with greater certainty their positions on the win curve, and for those on the bubble, you can think of the leverage as increasing. Sometimes a single in the eighth inning can be worth twice as much as a single in the first inning. Likewise, an added win down the stretch can be worth twice as much as an added win from the get-go. As teams understand their positions with greater clarity, they can become willing to pay more for the same improvement because that improvement is actually worth more. Every game down the stretch can mean more, and more with regard to the playoff odds, so every improvement can be amplified. At least in theory, this should offset the lost three or four months.

And, of course, a new team would still have Samardzija for 2015. And a new team would still have Samardzija for the 2014 playoffs, were that team to qualify. A team trading for Samardzija in 2014 would be trying to get him for the most important months of its season, and there could be a lot of value there for the Cubs to acquire. A very similar amount to what they might be able to get today.

And there’s a second reason for the Cubs to be patient. Right now, Samardzija is available in trade talks. David Price has been available in trade talks. Ervin Santana is a free agent. Ubaldo Jimenez is a free agent. A.J. Burnett is a free agent. Not long ago, Masahiro Tanaka finally signed. For teams looking for quality starting pitching, there are options, and there have been options. There’s a half-decent supply to meet the demand, and teams with pitching needs are still holding out as a consequence.

Something we can say with a high degree of certainty is the Cubs aren’t going to contend in 2014. One of the reasons for the Rays hanging onto Price is that they can make the playoffs right away with him. They’re a title contender. The Cubs are still rebuilding. What that means is that, as soon as the season begins, Price is off the market. The Rays won’t trade him if they’re playing for something. The free agents will find homes. In short, as the season progresses, some times will hang in the race while some teams will fall out. And if you look at the teams likely to fall out, it’s hard to see a better pitcher becoming available in trade talks than Samardzija.

Of course, we can’t predict the standings at the season’s end, so we can’t predict the standings in the middle of the year. But the Cubs probably won’t be very good, and they’ll have Samardzija to offer. The Marlins probably won’t be very good, but they don’t have anyone comparable they’d trade. The Astros probably won’t be very good, but they don’t have anyone comparable they’d trade. The White Sox might listen on, say, Jose Quintana, but he’s got less sex appeal and Chicago might want to keep him. The Twins aren’t going to have anything great. The Phillies aren’t going to have anything great that isn’t paid like it. The Brewers might have Yovani Gallardo, but they might be close to the race, and Gallardo’s declining. The Mets aren’t going to have anything great. With the new rules, more teams feel like they’re in contention, meaning fewer teams feel like sellers. Among the probable sellers, it’s unlikely anyone will be offering a better starting pitcher than Jeff Samardzija.

So he could be the biggest-impact pitcher available; he could generate a ton of interest among teams looking to make a splash. Matt Garza last year fetched a good package, and Garza was in a contract year. Samardzija could and should have fewer questions. Zack Greinke fetched a good package in 2012, and he was in a contract year. Samardzija still has another year after this — a year in which he’ll be underpaid. While a team looking toward 2015 could wait to try to deal for Price in the offseason, Samardzija would also make that immediate difference for the stretch run and for October. As the prime piece, Samardzija could get a prime return.

Naturally, as with everything, there are certain risks in taking the patient approach. Maybe the standings work out differently and there are other good starting pitchers who become available in the middle of the season. More significantly, Samardzija could get hurt — because any pitcher could get hurt — and hurt pitchers aren’t desirable pitchers. There’s also some chance Samardzija continues to pitch below his peripherals, and that could hurt his value. But his health history is perfect, his stuff is terrific and the best starters generally pitch for teams that ought to be in the hunt. Failing that, they’re generally franchise starters who won’t get moved, like, say, Jose Fernandez. Every decision in baseball comes with risk, but there’s good reason for the Cubs to believe they can drum up a huge Samardzija market in June or July. So if the Cubs don’t like the proposals others have been making, the team doesn’t need to sell him now

At the moment, there are multiple good starters available, and teams have set plans. Come the middle of the summer, there will be fewer good starters available, and set plans will have gone awry. Odds are that Jeff Samardzija will be effective and on the market. And odds are Samardzija will get traded then, for a package that makes the Cubs rather happy. They don’t need to hurry up, because in some time, it’ll be the other teams that are feeling desperate.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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John W.
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John W.
2 years 3 months ago

As a sad, stupid Cubs fan, I really hope you are right on this- hope springs eternal…

Aaron (UK)
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Aaron (UK)
2 years 3 months ago

With 2 seasons of control to go, hanging on to a player to midsummer looks like the right move for the reasons Jeff gives. On top of which, it is possible, if unlikely, that the Cubs could contend this year.

But when you’re down to a walk year, then trading before the season might make more sense (if you’re pretty sure you won’t contend), because of the QO advantage a team gets provided they’ve had the player all season.

stan
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stan
2 years 3 months ago

You think they can contend? After adding nothing to a 66-96 team in baseball’s toughest (maybe 2nd toughest) division? If anything they’ll be worse due to the trade off of Hammel/ Garza and Ruggiano/ Bogusevic. I hate to break it to you but the Cubs don’t even want to contend this year. They are in full blown tank mode… again. The good thing is that unlike the last couple of “tank mode” years they should have some real excitement toward the end of the year as their prospects start to come up.

Aaron (UK)
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Aaron (UK)
2 years 3 months ago

I’m not a Cubs fan and I’m sure they don’t expect to contend.

But they’re forecast at about 74-88; with a bit of luck and maybe some breakouts over the first half of the season they could easily be something like 42-40 – at which point they might decide to go for it by retaining Samardzija and bringing up some prospects. Of course, this might not be the correct decision.

Sparkles Peterson
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Sparkles Peterson
2 years 3 months ago

They’re projected at 96 losses here at FG. You have to be using “possible” extremely literally.

Aaron (UK)
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Aaron (UK)
2 years 3 months ago

They’re projected at 88 losses, as per the right hand columns here:

http://www.fangraphs.com/depthcharts.aspx?position=Standings

Sparkles Peterson
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Sparkles Peterson
2 years 3 months ago

Oh, my mistake. Laid out such that you have to actually read the columns, what poor design!

Iron
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Iron
2 years 3 months ago

I believe he was speaking entirely hypothetically.

Analyst
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Analyst
2 years 3 months ago

I think there is a reasonable chance they can contend in 2015. With all those fab prospects, an astute trade or two, and a FA sign (for a starting pitcher), they could be within reach of a wild card. What they need most is what Samard offers, good starting pitching, and he will still be theirs in 2015 if they decide not to trade him.

Sandy Kazmir
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2 years 3 months ago

Eno made a great point on a recent podcast that the cold air in Chicago early in the season may be a factor in suppressing home runs. As the temps heat up over the course of the season the ball begins to really fly out of Wrigley. If you’re looking to move the guy at peak value then that time might be after two months of great results before the park begins to work against him. This would represent a break-even for a team looking to get him as it brings an extra month or two of service, as well.

A quick analysis that doesn’t factor in park yields this over his career:

Month # of FB # of HR HR/FB
4 71 5 7.0%
5 89 8 9.0%
6 78 10 12.8%
7 103 12 11.7%
8 110 13 11.8%
9 97 13 13.4%

I’d pray for health and effectiveness over those first two months and then move him as the calendar flips over into June. By then, the Cubs and every other team will have a better idea of where they stand on the win curve and what ravages have occurred in their rotation.

nd
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nd
2 years 3 months ago

Good point and nice analysis. The Cubs should do a study on their park

stan
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stan
2 years 3 months ago

The problem with Samardzija is that he may *feel* like a front-line starter to those who look at his stuff and his strikeouts, but no team, including the Cubs, thinks that he really is. The problem is probably that he’s only thrown 200 innings once in his career and he visibly tired at the end of that one season. The year before that they had to shut him down at the end to preserve his arm. Since he got a late start his age is not what you’d like to see in a player who you’re giving a long-term contract either. Some would say that there isn’t as much wear and tear on his arm, but others would say there’s a reason he started out as a reliever in the first place and that’s that he doesn’t have the arm to start. Is he really better than a Matt Garza or even an Alexi Ogando? That’s debatable. Next year he’s still going to be a slight bargain at age 30 but not nearly as much of a bargain as David Price, a legitimate front-line starter who is actually in the prime of his career.

Its kind of funny to see the Cubs playing hardball on both sides of the equation on this. They won’t give him $12M a year in an extension, yet they are also trying to trade him as if he were a $20M a year player.

jiveballer
Member
jiveballer
2 years 3 months ago

He may not be (much) better than Ogando or Garza but those guys are now unavailable and/or much more expensive. The Rangers traded three decent prospects for a half-season of Garza (to whom they then declined to give a QO).

There is really no reason for the Cubs to trade Samardzjia for less than a “$20M/yr” kind of haul since they can easily afford him, he outperforms his pay by quite a bit, and he’s presumably going to net a 1st round pick if he leaves for FA.

stan
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stan
2 years 3 months ago

Why would Samardzija yield a first round pick? Is he better than Santana and Jimenez? Its a tough argument to make that he is. I think the Cubs would be wise to offer him one but more because he might have to take it as a 32 year old starter who hasn’t had a big payday yet. They need more guys like him if they are going to try to contend in 2015 and 2016.

Of course that all depends on whether the shark can actually throw 200 innings without tiring. Something he has yet to do.

jiveballer
Member
jiveballer
2 years 3 months ago

Its pretty easy to say yes, Samardzjia is indeed better than either of those guys right now. Santana was nearly DFA’d twice prior to regaining form last year, and Jimenez has been extremely erratic for pretty much his entire career. I don’t think those guys are comps – Shark is no ace but those guys are risky.

stan
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stan
2 years 3 months ago

Santana was nearly DFA’d because of his contract, after he earned a big money extension that actually was worth it for the Angels. His career ERA is exactly that of Samardzija’s and its not propped up by several years of relieving. He’s thrown 200 innings in a season 5 times without tiring or having arm trouble. His 2013 was better than any year of Samardizja’s career and he’s only 31 today.
I suppose there’s somewhat of an argument to be made, but the numbers are pretty strongly in favor of Santana.

JayT
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JayT
2 years 3 months ago

But Santana and Jimenez will both get their previous teams first round picks. There is pretty much a 0% chance that those two guys wait until June to sign, and they will both get more than the 1/$14 they would have gotten for taking the arb offer. Maybe not in AAV, but definitely in total value.
If Shark has two more years exactly like the last two, the Cubs would offer arb, he would turn it down, and they would get a pick.

David
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David
2 years 3 months ago

Just for clarification: I don’t think the Rangers were able to offer Garza a QO, they didn’t choose not to.

jayrig5
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jayrig5
2 years 3 months ago

“He’s only thrown 200 innings once in his career” because he’s only been a starter for two seasons. That 200 IP season was last year. And “they had to shut him down at the end to preserve his arm” is such a gross mischaracterization of 2012; he’d been a reliever in 2011, and the new regime converted him back to a starter. He was at 175 IP in September, and they decided it didn’t make sense to push him to 200+ for no reason. It’s not like he had a twinge in his elbow and they shut him down.

Ben
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Ben
2 years 3 months ago

The problem with waiting is that other teams could fall out of the race. I don’t see any way the Reds contend this year. So, would Bailey be available? What if the Royals struggle? Shields could be out there. If the Indians falter, I could see Masterson dealt.

Iron
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Iron
2 years 3 months ago

Inevitably someone else will be available for the reasons you state, but with the second wildcard it is very much a seller’s market. The number of teams an arbitrary number of games back from the second wild card who can at least pretend to their fanbase to be in contention is nigh all-inclusive.

Matthew
Member
Member
2 years 3 months ago

The Red wouldn’t contend? PECOTA has them a 83W or tied with the Braves for the 2nd wild card spot with the Giants at 87W getting the other.

The Royal and Indians are in trouble before the season begins because the Tigers are one of the best teams in baseball and both wild cards are coming out of the either the stacked AL East or AL West.

richdanna
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richdanna
2 years 3 months ago

Shields is three years older with an extra 1000 innings on his arm. Not nearly as attractive as Samardzija. Masterson will most likely get extended. Bailey is the wild card here, but I think Cincinnati hangs around long enough that they have to keep him in tow. They’d get crucified if they dealt him with even the most slim chances of reaching the second WC spot.

Matthew
Member
Member
2 years 3 months ago

Samardjiza is rather old for a arbitration pitcher, by the time the Cubs could cotend in 2016, he’ll be close in his 30’s.

But the Cubs absolutely need top 100 pitching prospects in return. I think the Blue Jays make sense. But they STILL have a protected draft pick sitting pretty.

The Orioles might make some sense. The seemingly are against signing FA players. But the could pull off a Samardjiza trade. You could probably offer Bundy straight up. A risky big upside guy.

Mr Punch
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Mr Punch
2 years 3 months ago

To me, Jeff Samardzija looks a lot like the second coming of Matt Clement.

coldseat
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coldseat
2 years 3 months ago

It’s somewhat difficult to opine on the Cubs trade strategy regarding JS w/o knowing what/who specifically was being offered/what they were asking in real names. I think everyone can agree that the best time to trade someone is when “their value is high,” or “when there’s less supply.”

KCDaveInLA
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KCDaveInLA
2 years 3 months ago

Definitely a ripple effect from the James Shields trade: more teams believe they can ask for the moon in exchange for a B+ pitcher.

Crash37
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Member
Crash37
2 years 3 months ago

Living in Chicago I’ve seen him pitch many times and feel trading him now would be less risky and would bring more of a return than waiting. Yes, he’s under-performed his FIP peripherals but that’s been his history as a starter and he’s 29 so chances are it’s not going to change all that much. If you’ve seen him pitch enough you may notice he’s got a bit of Carlos Zambrano in him in that he gets visibly frustrated with what he considers bad calls or adverse circumstances which affect his results. This and his high HR/FB% could have contributed to his very poor Junes in 2012 and 2013 his horrendous 2013 July. If he’s in the middle of a performance meltdown right before the trading deadline this may scare teams away. The longer you hold a guy with these poorly trending outliers the riskier he becomes. And finally when we get to the trade deadline teams with the most ideal prospects (teams with elite pitching prospects) might not be in it July. Arizona and Archie Bradley is one team that comes to mind, Baltimore and Bundy another, Pittsburgh and Taillon another. What good does it do the Cubs if the Yankees are desperate to make a move with their pathetic farm system? Ditto the Angels, Giants. More risky and restricting at that point in my opinion.

stan
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stan
2 years 3 months ago

I think that’s what we’re really talking about here. The Cubs don’t actually want him long-term and want to deal him while he can kind of, sort of, pass for a top 3 starter. You can forget about getting a Bradley/ Bundy/ Taillon type of player for him though. Those are worth far more than Samardzija. They might be able to get a deal like the Garza deal though given that they still have 1.5 years of control for him.

Paulie
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Paulie
2 years 3 months ago

The baseball side of a Samardzija trade has been thouroughly discussed. But I think it is important to look at the business side also.

At some point, probably in the near future, the Cubs are going to have to improve the product on the field. Cubs fans at an increasing rate are unwilling to pay for substandard baseball while paying one of the 3 highest ticket prices. Payroll and talent on the 25 man roster has declined each year since 2010.

The Ricketts annual debt payments are in the neighborhood of $30m. Theo has been on record stating that the team requires additional revenue if they want sustained success. The 2 biggest revenue streams mentioned, are the Wrigley renovations and a new TV deal. The renovations haven’t started yet and by estimates will take 4 to 5 years to complete once started. Most Cubs games are on CSN, and that deal I believe does not expire until after 2019. They have to do something.

According to internal sources as reported by Gordon Wittenmyer on Sep. 4, 2013, the Cubs lose $7m in revenue for every 100k fans lost in attendance. The Cubs set a franchise record in 2008 with just over 3.3m. Their attendance in 2013 was just over 2.6m, dropping for the 5th year in a row.

It doesn’t appear that the Cubs top prospects will break camp with the big club and if Baez and Bryant continue to K in over 25% of their AB’s you will not see them until Sep. at the earliest. Sometimes teams have to make moves that do not make much sense from a performance standpoint. That is why Jeter is still playing shortstop and why the Lakers gave a declining Kobe a massive extension. I do not see how the Cubs are competitive in the next couple of years unless Rizzo and Castro greatly improve and several of the prospects are thriving at the big league level. The odds of all of that happening are fairly low. A Samardzija extension would eliminate one less hole the Cubs would need to fill. They have lost out on every major FA they targeted except for Soler. Unless you include Edwin Jackson. They tried and failed to sign Anibal Sanchez, Cespedes, Tanaka, Darvish, Puig and Ryu. Although I am not certain their level of interest in Puig and Ryu but they fit the Cubs team building plan.

There have been reports that there is tension between the Cubs business ops and baseball ops, it will be interesting to see how Samardzija is handled.

Stefan
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Stefan
2 years 3 months ago

As a Cubs fan, the thought that our ownership/front office would make a bad move just to sell me an 83-win team keeps me up at night.

The fans are staying away, but the fans are not giving up. They understand what is going on here.

richdanna
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richdanna
2 years 3 months ago

Puig was looked at as a HUGE overpay by most everyone in the industry. It didn’t turn out that way, going forward, but looking back, hindsight is 20/20. There was really no way to see him translating like this…

yeahright
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yeahright
2 years 3 months ago

The White Sox might listen on, say, Jose Quintana, but he’s got less sex appeal

Hey loser cub fan, Don’t LIE – yeah right less appeal

Cub are laughing stock pathetic franchise.. It is all brainwashing LIE that hey hey this is – Nothing.

Why on earth want to bring quintana – where white sox are laughing at pathetic franchise for long time – No appeal – LOSER cub fan LOL LOL

richdanna
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richdanna
2 years 3 months ago

Wha?

haslone
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haslone
2 years 3 months ago

LOL LOL !!

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