This week will probably feature a heavy dose of Jeff Samardzija trade rumors. Such is the nature of the beast. Before we get there, though …
I’ve long been on the side of preferring to sign Samardzija to a reasonable extension. It’s easier to keep the front end arm you already have than to try and find one out there, and Samardzija feels like a good bet for the next four to five years. Say what you will of the Cubs’ timeline for competitiveness, but I’m quite certain they’d like to be popping out 90+ win seasons at some point before 2018.
But, as you know, there’s a significant problem in getting Samardzija to sign a reasonable extension right now: he’s already made more than $15 million in his career. The incentive to sign a team-friendly, life-changing extension isn’t there for Samardzija, who would prefer to bet on himself for the next two years and then try and score big in free agency. For that reason, some folks argue that the Cubs have to bend upward in their offer(s) to Samardzija, if they want to get him on a long-term team. Indeed, in a piece about the extend/trade Samardzija situation, Jesse Rogers argues, in essence, that Samardzija’s career earning level is a reason to step up the offer to Samardzija, closer to the free agent level dollars he’s looking for.
I do not agree with the folks on that side of the fence. Those big career earnings are a reason for Samardzija to bet on himself. That is not a reason for the Cubs to give him more money. His value is his value. A reasonable deal is a reasonable deal.
The Cubs still control Samardzija, cheaply, for the next two years. The fact that he has personal reasons for wanting free agent level dollars in those two years as part of an extension is not a sufficient reason to give them to him. Heck, to my mind, it would be folly to guarantee Samardzija free agent level dollars in years 2016, 2017, and 2018 of the extension, too. Why in the world would the Cubs agree now to guarantee Samardzija the very prices he’ll hope to seek in two years? So very many things could go wrong in those two years, and, even if they don’t, the Cubs will have as much chance as any other team to bid on Samardzija at free agent level prices.
In other words, the fact that Samardzija might want a free agent level contract right now is not a reason to give it to him. It is, sadly, a reason to trade him.
With apologies to Samardzija – and with complete and total respect should he wish to keep betting on himself (good on you, man, go get yours) – the Cubs’ extension offer should top out at five years and about $61 million. It can be spread out however the sides would like, but it is, essentially, $5 million in 2014 (arbitration expectation), $8 million in 2015 (arbitration expectation), $15 million in 2016 (maximum reasonable rate – borderline free agent level), $16 million in 2017, and $17 million in 2018. If Samardzija wants a higher rate for the bought out free agent years, then maybe a three or four-year extension is in order instead. That’s probably less palatable to the Cubs, in terms of asset planning, but it would come with a lesser guarantee.
So, in the end, I come right back to where I’ve always been: a reasonable extension for Samardzija is the best option for the Cubs (and, hopefully, Samardzija). If that’s clearly not possible, the Cubs should do what they’re already doing, and listen to what’s out there in trade. Unless a clear-cut, fantastic offer comes, let Samardzija start 2014 with the Cubs, and re-evaluate in July.