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With the Chicago Cubs entering lock-up-the-young-studs mode (by virtue of an upcoming extension to Starlin Castro), it’s fair to start looking around the roster and wonder who else the Cubs might consider locking up.

Most of the Cubs’ young big league talent – Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters – is still in the very early stages of their pre-arbitration years, and probably is at least another year or two off from being considered for an extension. But one player stands out as having a decent amount of experience at this point in his career, and is on the verge of heading to arbitration for the first time in 2013: Jeff Samardzija.

Should the Cubs consider extending Samardzija this Winter in the hopes that they can save some money in his three arbitration years, and perhaps grab a free agent year or two while they’re at it?

On the one hand, Samardzija is in the midst of an excellent year as a starter after a few years of bouncing around between the bullpen and Iowa. His 3.74 FIP is 35th best in all of baseball, and his performance has certainly passed the eye test. He’s 27, but it’s a young 27, without a lot of mileage on his arm. He’s a phenomenally hard worker, and there is reason to believe he could get even better. If he does blow up next year, the Cubs could be in store not only for huge bills in arbitration, but Samardzija may decide to cash in on free agency in a few years.

On the other hand, don’t you want to see more sustained success than a mere five months (one of which was abysmal) as a starter before you commit $10s of million guaranteed? As things stand, the Cubs could go year-to-year on Samardzija for each of the next three years, and minimize their downside risk.

Which is the better approach?

Hard to say, but it doesn’t sound like the Cubs are itching to lock Samardzija up just yet. In 2013, he’ll be arbitration eligible for the first time, and can expect a healthy raise on his $2.64 million salary from 2012. Based on his success, his service time, and his previous salary, I think he’s going to exceed $4 million, and possibly even $5 million, which is quite high for a first-time arbitration player (his 2012 salary was so high, you’ll recall, because of the unique, big league contract he received out of the Draft). From there, if he pitches well again in 2013 and 2014, he could blow past $10 million in 2015.

Because of that unique, big league contract that Samardzija received out of the Draft, his calculus on stuff like this might be slightly different from most young players, too. Having already received $10 million from that contract, plus another $2.64 million this past season, Samardzija has made some serious money in his baseball career. He might be more able and willing to hold out for the possibility of mega bucks in free agency, rather than try to land some guaranteed money right now.

On the subject of Samardzija, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein says the Cubs are open to an extension, but might want to see a little more before committing.

“There are players who certainly can make the case for that,” Epstein said, according to CSN. “Sometimes it’s different with pitchers versus position players and when you like to do these types of things and for how long. Usually you see a guy go through a full season or two in a certain role before you make that commitment. But we’re open-minded about it. We’re certainly glad to have a handful of guys that we believe in and some kids in the minor leagues that we hope will come up here and do the same thing.”

As for Samardzija, himself, he says pretty much what you’d expect him to say.

“I’m not really too worried about that. I like to leave that front-office stuff to my agent,” Samardzija said, per ESPNChicago. “That’s what they do and that’s what they are paid to do, to talk about that stuff. I’m here to play baseball and that’s just what I’m going to do. When things like that happen it’s kind of out of your control to tell you the truth. You can just prove to them that you are valuable on the field and whatever happens, happens.”

So, what are your thoughts? The risk/reward ratio here feels quite a bit different from, for example, Starlin Castro, but is it sufficiently skewed to make an extension unattractive? How long would you go? How high? Would you wait another year?

  • cjdubbya

    Think he’d go 5/40?

  • BlueHorizons

    Even though I’m a fan of Samardzija’s – watched him play both baseball and football at ND – If I had any influence with Theo, I’d recommend waiting on this one. Samardzija has had some impressive games, but he’s also been equally bad, more times than I’d like to see. I think the jury should still deliberate a while before pulling the trigger. There’s still plenty of time…

  • Cyranojoe

    One, as a wise Lou Diamond Phillips once asked: Brett, “What’s caluclous, maaaan?”

    Two, yeah, I’d be nervous about locking Jeff down just yet. Who knows whether he’d continue to have the drive he needs in order to stay at this level or grow into a true #1 if he didn’t have that “they don’t respect me!” motivator that clearly got stuck in his craw this year and past offseason. We’ve got to see more, even if it means ultimately paying more in an extension next year.

    I don’t feel very strongly either way, though. Just would like to see him continue to get better within the Friendly Confines.

  • Wilbur

    I would think they wait a year and extend at a higher salary, but with higher confidence. The marginal cost locking in a higher salary then versus now being the cost of information (the added year of performance) … also reduces risk.

  • Idaho Razorback

    6/45 million

  • SouthernCub

    Trade him

  • Cubbie Blues

    from the Tribune: “I signed a nice contract coming out of college, and I don’t have many expenses,” said Samardzija, who signed a five-year, $10 million contract in 2007. “I don’t have that many bills to pay. So I don’t really need any money, to tell you the truth. I’m not asking for anything. I’m asking to pitch. I’m asking to pitch every fifth day, and I’m asking to pitch a lot.”

    He also has a $3.5 mil. option in 2013.

    Brett, dose he still go to arbitration even with the option?

    • http://www.justinjabs.com/blog/ justinjabs

      If the option is picked up, I don’t think he does. Because the players only go to arbitration if they can’t come to a contract agreement on their own. Thus, the option would be an agreement like that.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I could be wrong, and I’ll look into it more, but I believe that, when the Cubs declined his 2012 option (instead opting to “renew” him, and save about $600K in the process), they no longer retained the 2013 option. I could very much be wrong on that, and, if I am, they would absolutely just pick up that option.

      • http://www.justinjabs.com/blog/ justinjabs

        Cot’s Current Contract for Shark:

        1 year/$2.64M (2012)
        re-signed by Chicago Cubs 2/12

        I think Brett’s right.

        • Cubbie Blues

          Thanks guys.

          • MoneyBoy

            That’s the way I read it too!!

            As I remember, he took a 20% cut, (down from $3mm) the most the Cubs could cut him.

            Even with some bad, this has been a year of progress for Shark. Even if he’s given $5mm in arb I’d have to agree … wait one more year!

      • Scotti

        Brett, Samardzija actually didn’t sign his big contract out of the draft–Selig wouldn’t allow it. The Cubs signed him to a normal contract and then he went back to ND to play wide out his Sr season. THEN they tore up the old contract and gave him the ten million dollar deal.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          It’s just an expression. The relevant point is that he has already made considerably more than a player typically would have in his career at this point.

  • bob

    I’d be a bit cautious, too. It is almost the same as risking big money on a free-agent pitcher, and more and more teams are finding that to be a big mistake.

  • CubFan Paul

    If Theo&Co believe Samardzija will get better or develop into a solid #2 starter then an extension this offseason makes a ton of sense. They bought low on Castro so buying low now on Samardzija makes a ton of sense before he pitches a full season and blossoms into a top of the rotation stud

    An extension that pays him $22M-$$24M during his 3 arbitration years is reasonable and $30M more for his first 2 free agent years would make it a 5yr/$54M extension ..sign me up

  • Fastball

    I don’t know about doing an extension for him right now. He hasn’t demonstrated any kind of success over a year or two. I would go to arbitration with him at least once. If he does a good job next year then look at extending him after that. No need to rush into what could potentially be at bad contract if he doesn’t produce over more than just this year.

  • Fastball

    I would do an extension on Darwin Barney. I wouldn’t do a long term extension. I would look at 3 years though. He is developing into one of the best 2B in baseball. No reason to not take care of him IMO. I don’t see him regressing anytime soon. He appears to be improving month over month. Let’s keep our double play combo in place for the next 3 years.

    • Edwin

      He may not developing into one of the best 2B, but he is a nice player to have around. He’s a fantastic fielder, and a very good baserunner. He’s a bad hitter. With his low cost, he’ll provide plenty of surplus value to the Cubs for the next couple seasons. If they can lock him up cheaply for 3 or 4 seasons, I say do it. Even if he gets replaced as a starter he could be a fine utility player or defensive specialist.

      • bbmoney

        Maybe I’m missing something, but if you’re only looking for a 3 or 4 year deal, what’s the point? He’s under Cub control until 2017, and he’s almost certainlynot going to be a real expensive Arb guy since arb usually rewards offensive and not defensive numbers.

        I like Darwin, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not sure we save anything by giving him a 4 year contract, he’s not even arb eligible until after 2014 according to baseball reference.

        • Edwin

          I’m assuming that the Cubs would save money on the deal. The Front Office could estimate the total amount that Barney would get through going year to year arbitration, discount the total by a percentage, and offer that total to Barney. Essentially they would “buy out” some of those Arb years. That way both sides win. Barney gets gauranteed money, and a possible sooner payday (as opposed to going through the arb process each year), while the Cubs save money while taking on only a small portion of risk.

          Otherwise, I agree, going year to year makes sense as well. There probably wouldn’t be much of a difference anyways.

        • MoneyBoy

          bb … according to Cot’s, he’s arb eligible after 2013.

          This is said without too much thought (admittedly) but I think “no” and not as a knock on Barney. Rather, it has to do with the depth of infielders in the organization. Barney being under control, even if in Arb, until 2017, gives some of these kids time to mature and perhaps even get to the ML club!

          Castro is a different animal. Unique skills, developing in the field, still with major upside at the plate. Absolutely thrilled they’re making the move.

        • Pat

          This is an excellent point. One thing to consider is that there are infielders on their way up, and a player like Barney has more value as a cost controlled but not guaranteed money contract. He would no longer be attractive as an injury replacement if he’s on a four year deal. Not saying they should trade him, but it makes much more sense to keep your options open. Especially if you can afford it.

          For any extension of a guy who is under control for several years, you have to look at the risk reward.

      • Wilbur

        Agree

      • Featherstone

        I would disagree with you saying hes not developing into one of the best 2b in baseball. according to baseball reference
        http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/barneda01.shtml

        Hes nearly put up a 5 WAR season almost solely from his ridiculous 3.6 WAR from his defense alone. He may be a bit light with the bat, but hes defense is at the top of the league.

        • Pat

          Part of that DWar is the shift they have been employing. Both he and Castro are getting credit for getting to a lot of “out of range” balls that is really just the result of positioning. No second baseman is ever really worth 4 war defensively over a full season. Barney has been great defensively, but the war numbers are misleading.

          • Featherstone

            If its just the result of positioning then how would it be considered out of range, every team should be employing a shift depending on the situation. I agree with you though, 4 WAR from a 2nd basemen on the defense alone is overblown, but you don’t have to be Robinson Cano to be a good 2b overall, just hit average for your position and field like god.

        • Drew7

          This is the kind of situation that shows the flaws of WAR as a stand-alone stat, though. B-BR loves Barney’s D, while it gives Soriano a negative dWAR. meanwhile, Fangraphs has Barney at 2.4 WAR (somewhere in the middle is prob accurate) while Soriano is credited with 3.1, with great defensive measurements.

          Im not saying Barney’s a bad player, but is he really the 7th-most valuable position player in the NL? No. Until they are able to come up with more dependable defensive measurements we will have big discrepancies in the value of a guy like Barney

          • Featherstone

            I’m not disagreeing with you, but I will say that fangraphs doesnt break down the difference between oWar and dWar. Im curious to see what sort of value they assign to his defense. Also I wouldn’t be surprised to be see Soriano with a negative dWar. Yes, he’s been better of late, but he still has bad knees and doesn’t have a whole lot of range.

  • willis

    I think you hang tight on this one for now. Let’s see how the rest of this season plays out (probably won’t pitch that much more) and how things go next season. I think he can be the 2/3 guy for awhile for this club. But this one season is a little too small of a sample size to talk a significant contract extension. Even if it is at a dscounted price for someone of his talent level.

    We’ve been frustrated with him for years. He has been pretty damn good this year, but I think the FO needs to see how he responds to his first full year as a starter, early next season, before there are any long term extensions.

  • Kevin

    I would try to work out an extension on Shark. Keeping payroll as low as possible will allow for the free agent signings when we are finally competitive again. Also if it doesn’t work out, it is better to have him on a more team friendly deal. Shark has been fantastic outside of the month of June, and he was experiencing “dead-arm” during that time period.

  • Fastball

    what I don’t understand is why we continue to run Shawn Camp out to pitch in game breaking situations. He can’t fool anyone any longer. He can’t throw hard enough to break a window and he is so damned predictable is pathetic. The Cubs bullpen this weekend was horrid except for Marmol IMO. If we had any kind of BP at all we could have taken that series from the Reds or at least split the 4 game set. No excuse for what we are running out there. Camp is worn out and has nothing left. Yet Sveum still pitches him. Russell hasn’t been any different as far as that goes. We are in serious trouble the rest of this season with regard to our BP. I like the fact that we are using Raley. I see improvement with each start.

  • Cub Fan Dan

    He needs to learn to throw & catch with his hair. Then Im all about a long term deal.

  • cubzforlife

    Shark is a gym rat and has a monster build. Muscles on muscles. I would sign him to help with the off season construction.

  • Ben (BG2383)

    Cubs easily have the money to go year to year on him….with pitcher injury risk and uncertainties about whether he will truly be a top guy on a good staff it just makes more sense to go year to year (in my humble opinion)

    • wax_eagle

      That really depends on where you see his ceiling. If his ceiling is as a 4-5 guy then yeah that’s great. Go year to year. If you see the ceiling as a 1/2/3 type then you probably want to lock him up now, or at least mid year next year and take your chances with him.

      It’s a risk, and all contracts for young pitching are (TJ can cut a year off with a twang and a phone call do Dr A.). But at the same time, does the potential reward outweigh the risk? If Shark is a 4 or 5 (maybe even a 3), probably not. If he’s a 2 or even a 1? Absolutely it does.

      • Drew7

        You’re right, but I don’t think there is much debate about what his ceiling is – Shark definitely has TOR-potential.

        Shark’s situation is a unique one. Of course you’;d like to see him perform well next year before making a decision, but then he’s gonna be getting awfully expensive. If 5/$54mil gets it done in the offseason, I wouldn’t complain.

        • Scotti

          Yeah, I don’t think anyone with any baseball knowledge sees his ceiling as a 3-5. The only possible debate would be is his ceiling a 1 or 2 and that debate is moot. If he’s a 1 then whatever you could pay him, in this scenario, he will be WELL worth it–a steal. If he’s a 2 then you still have a very good contract.

          The broader issues are still the greater concern. Pitchers run a greater risk of injury and also of given you zero return after injury. Soriano is, at least, a slugging OF after a series of hamstring injuries sapped his speed and a devistating collision with the wall nearly destroyed his knee. Mark Prior can’t even keep a job in AAA after his injuries.

          As Theo said, pitchers and hitters are different when it come to extending. Castro could be moved to 3B or LF to get some value out of him. You’d be lucky to get relief innings out of Samardzija if he went down. Remember, even Kerry Wood could only provide partial years in relief.

          For the SAME reason you should prefer to sign high-priced free agents as hitters while drafting for young pitchers. Yes, the injury rate is higher for the young pitcher but the lost cost is much lower for drafted pitchers vs free agents. Would you, as a team, rather lose 5 million on a high draft pick or 15-20 million PER YEAR on a top of the rotation free agent?

          For Samardzija you have a lower risk guy. He’s never been injured, he’s past his mid-twenties (an injury milestone for pitchers because of growth plates) and he still has his velocity, sharpness and command/control. He is worth a risk but, since he’s still a pitcher, there is still a risk of losing all investment.

  • B_Scwared

    I say wait. Let’s see if his arm can hold up to the starting pitcher load for another year.

  • BluBlud

    I say lock him up. I think 5 years 35 millions. That’s a fair deal for everybody. It still leaves a chance for him to get a big contract after this one is up.

    • Scotti

      Samardzija would never do a deal like that.

      • BluBlud

        I guess the 6/45 or the 5/40 offered is so much better. I love Shark, but anything more then 7 per is 2 much right now. Way to much.

        • Drew7

          If he pitches well again next year, I’d imagine he’ll be making over $7mil in his 2nd arb year, and MUCH more than $7mil after that.

        • Scotti

          Blu, from what Theo was saying there is no offer. But in the “offers” you show, the final year in the six-year deal is only five million. He simply would never sell a free agent year for five million.

  • Quintz

    Lock him up long term solely for the purpose of appeasing people who love saying “shark”.

  • demz

    it’s “calculus”

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Thanks. Unfortunately they’re both words, but the sans ‘o’ version is the one I wanted. Just a typo.

      • Cyranojoe

        Aw, you thanked him long after I tried to correct you. :( I guess I need to be more direct. Also, I had no idea calculous was an actual word. *adds to Scrabble list*

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          My bad. I see comments on my end (the back-end) in reverse chronological order, so I often see more recent comments first.

  • Deez

    Samardzija is not the long term solution for the Cubs. He may develop into a dominate pitcher, but even as we speak right now, he is not a #1 or a #2 & to even consider him a #3 is a stretch!
    He’s only pitched over 125 innings in a season this year. This is his first season ever w/ 20+ starts. The body of work is not there. Epstein & the crew are smart people & to commit big dollars w/o another season of production would border on lunacy UNLESS the strategy is to buy low then sale high.
    Something I can see possible.

    • Scotti

      Samardzija’s stuff is clearly #1 stuff. The Cubs just paid a Cuban kid $30 million for potential. They figured that they would rather risk $30 million than to lose out on that potential. Samardzija has a lot more than potential–when he was only potential the Cubs paid him $10 million to pitch. If the Cubs can lock up 2-3 free agent years of Samardzija they will do so. It would be very rare to get a guy like Samardzija on the market and only have to sign him for those productive free agent years and not the declining ones.

      • Tommy

        Wasn’t Soler’s contract for 9 years? I don’t think that is a good comparison, though I do agree it would be nice to see them sign the shark to an extension. Years and dollars have to be considered, though. He hasn’t shown enough to be given a TOR contract yet, imo, but in the end, that decision is in the hands of Theo and Jed, and I imagine they are a better evaluator of talent than any of us.

  • BD

    Only if they can get a very team-friendly deal. Then yes.

    However, how about they go for an Evan Longoria type deal with Rizzo?

    • Scotti

      WAY too soon on Rizzo.

  • Jackalope

    While traditional stats aren’t the most helpful in analyzing player performance, they do play a substantial role in determining arbitration paychecks. Samardzija’s are not stellar:

    8-11, 4.17 ERA

    So while his unusual contract may start him at a higher pay grade, I don’t know that it will escalate a ton, at least based on this year’s performance. I’m more willing to risk paying more later in arbitration and possibly getting to free agency than am am willing to risk a long term deal at this point.

    • Scotti

      Jack, arbitration rules on the last two years of stats. Since Samardzija is now a starter he would be looked at as a starter with those two years of stats to consider. Samardzija has very good two-year stats.

      • Scotti

        My guess is that they go into next year to see how his arm has bounced back from this season. In the unlikely event that the Cubs are contending they’ll wait until after next year. If they aren’t then they’ll get the ball rolling by August.

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