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?