With rumors about Jeff Samardzija swirling at the Trade Deadline, I can understand how some folks might not believe the big righty remains an important part of the team’s future.
But, to those folks, I would reiterate what I said throughout the month of July: pitchers like Jeff Samardzija are becoming increasingly difficult to acquire externally. Given his improving ability (to say nothing of how good he looks to the eye test), the relatively low mileage on his arm, and the Cubs’ desperate need for top-line starting pitching, the Cubs would trade Samardzija only if they were absurdly blown away. It would have required an offer so extreme that you would have questioned what they other team was thinking.
No such offer came, expectedly, and now Samardzija is with the Cubs for at least another couple months. But what about after that?
Well, Jed Hoyer says the Cubs still want to extend Samardzija, because obviously.
“It is something we would like to do it for sure,” Hoyer said of signing Samardzija to a long-term extension, per ESPNChicago. “We love having him on the team. He brings the right competitiveness to the club. I think he will keep getting better. We want to acquire a lot more pitchers like him. It is hard to rank it on a priority list, but it is very high on things we would like to get done.”
Interestingly, when reporting on Hoyer’s comments, Bruce Levine says the extension discussed this offseason with Samardzija was for just three years and $27 million. Since 2013 was Samardzija’s first arbitration year, that means the “extension” wouldn’t actually have extended any team control – it would have merely locked in cost certainty. Then again, this front office is all about tacking on team options, and I wonder if maybe the offer was a three-year deal with a guarantee of $27 million, but with a couple team options at the end (which came with a buyout that was built into that guarantee). That would square with other reports we’ve seen where a five-year extension is referenced, and would also explain why Samardzija would be getting $27 million for three arbitration years in which he’s projected to make closer to $20 million.
The other possibility is that the “extension” didn’t kick in until, say, after 2013 (so it would have bought out a year of free agency, and the price tag starts to look more understandable). Or maybe it was three years after his arbitration years, but, if so, three years of free agency for just $27 million would have been a steal (even if the Cubs were taking the risk of him being injured in the three years before it kicked in). I suppose what I’m trying to say: without more context, an offer of a three-year, $27 million extension to Samardzija is impossible to evaluate.
As I’ve referenced before, the Matt Harrison extension with the Rangers before this season is a near perfect comparison for a Samardzija extension:
The Rangers just signed lefty Matt Harrison to a five-year, $55 million extension (with a vesting option on the end), which is most notable from the Cubs’ perspective as they consider extending Jeff Samardzija long-term, most likely after the 2013 season. Harrison, like Samardzija, is 27, and had two more years of arbitration remaining (just as Samardzija will have after this season). After becoming a full-time starter in 2011, Harrison put together back-to-back dominant seasons for the Rangers (which could be the case for Samardzija after this season), and made $2.95 million in 2012.
If Samardzija is set to make, say, $17 million in arbitration over the next two years (just a ballpark), such an extension would net Samardzija $38 million over his first three free agent years. A good price for the Cubs? Sure. A huge discount that Samardzija shouldn’t even consider? Nah. It’s pretty reasonable.
Harrison’s two-year lead-up to the extension was probably a little bit better than Samardzija’s, so, even adjusting for inflation, 5/$55 still seems like the appropriate range. Getting a team option or two on the end would be the real cherry.
For Samardzija, however, the question will continue to be: how much is the $15 million he’s already earned in his career going to embolden him to take this all the way to free agency? A $55 million guarantee is great, but he might feel like he’s already playing with house money.
Even without an extension, Samardzija remains under club control for 2014 and 2015. Given how important those seasons will be for the long-term success of the organization (a better team drives more revenue, drives a better team, drives more revenue, and on and on), Samardzija’s value to the Cubs even for just those two seasons – in which he’ll be cost-controlled – is enormous.
But if the Cubs could lock in the rate for those two years, and buy out a few free agent years at a reasonable rate? All the better.