In the weeks leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline this year, the unthinkable happened: Jeff Samardzija’s name popped up in multiple, credible trade rumors. Outside of the front office’s willingness to discuss any player in trade – you always at least listen – there were reports dating back to Spring Training that discussions between the Cubs and Samardzija on an extension were not proceeding well, and the Cubs might be looking to cash in on his value while they could.
Fast-forward to October, and the Cubs did not trade Samardzija, who is now coming off a 4.34 ERA season (but which looks quite a bit better by the advanced metrics). The Cubs have control over Samardzija for the next two seasons via arbitration, but have made no secret that they’d like to lock him up to a longer-term deal. Talks on such a deal are expected to pick back up this offseason, but sources tell Gordon Wittenmyer that an extension is a “long shot” at this point, given the gap in the two sides’ positions. If an extension doesn’t happen this offseason, and if the Cubs struggle out of the gate next year, we’ll once again hear multiple, credible trade rumors involving Samardzija next July.
I recently wrote about the implications of exploding salaries and the recent trend of mega extensions for in-house stars. With more and more money available to had to marginal talent in free agency, I wondered at what point the pendulum would swing sufficiently far that young, star players are more willing to risk injury or ineffectiveness on the way to a huge free agent score.
Might Jeff Samardzija be such a player?
In some ways, Samardzija could be the perfect player to resist extension overtures in the era of exploding salaries. He’s already banked more than $15 million in salary, so there isn’t the same impetus to get that first big score. His baseball card stats look far worse than his advanced stats, and as appreciation for the latter expands, he might be in a better position to cash in two years from now than today.
You can’t blame a guy for betting on himself, and you also can’t blame the Cubs for being unwilling to pay free agent market price for a guy with two more arbitration years left (and a relatively limited track record of success as a starter). For my part, I’ve long seen the five-year, $55 million Matt Harrison extension as a comparable for Samardzija talks. That extension came after two successful years as a starter, and two years prior to Harrison reaching free agency.
Having made $2.64 million in his first year of arbitration in 2013, I’d think Samardzija would be in line for a raise to something in the $5 million range for 2014. Another successful year, and he could be around $8 to $10 million in 2015. From there, it’s hard to project what kind of salary Samardzija would command in free agency, given the steep rise in market rates over the last two years, and given the uncertainty of Samardzija’s performance.
If Samardzija got $55 million for the next five years, he’d be getting, essentially, $40 million or so for those first three years of free agency. Market price? No. But, given those uncertainties, and the fact that the Cubs would be committing that cash years in advance, it’s a perfectly reasonable deal for both sides. If Samardzija is demanding considerably more than that, I could understand the Cubs’ hesitation.