We heard last week that the Chicago Cubs were keeping an appropriately high asking price on starter Jeff Samardzija, if the team were to part with the 28-year-old righty who remains under control for two more years. That report came in the context of talks with the Blue Jays, though it was subsequently confirmed by reports out of Atlanta that said talks between the Cubs and Braves had broken down over the Cubs’ lofty asking price.
Mark Bowman, who covers the Braves for MLB.com, has supplemented said reports with this tidbit:
While thoughts of landing Price might have only existed in the fantasy world, the Braves were genuinely interested in finding out what it would take to bring Samardzija to Atlanta. That interest quickly died when the Cubs indicated they would be looking for a return package that included either Jason Heyward or Justin Upton.
Well that’s interesting.
Well, a whole bunch of caveats apply, including our lack of knowledge about the meaning of the words “package” and “including” there, but even a straight-up Samardzija for Upton or Heyward deal is an interesting thing to consider. Upton, 26, is under contract for just two more years (like Samardzija) at $14.5 million per year (far more than Samardzija), and – despite his scorching start in Atlanta – wound up being worth just 3.2 wins in 2013. I’m actually not sure I’d be into a straight up swap involving Samardzija and Upton, so the words “package” and “including” actually make some sense in that regard, at least from an asking for the moon perspective.
As for Heyward, 24, he, too, remains under control for just two more years, but his arbitration outlay figures to be something much closer to what Samardzija will make. Heyward is a fantastic defensive outfielder in right field, and can play center field if you need him to. He was worth 6.4 wins in a huge 2012 season, and 3.6 wins last year despite being down considerably with the bat (he still had a .344 wOBA when all was said and done, though). His upside is enormous, and if it weren’t for the fact that he’s a free agent in two years, it would be utterly insane to ask for him in return for Samardzija.
Given the free agent timeline, though, I actually don’t think it was as ballsy for the Cubs to make that suggestion as some folks might think. It’s entirely possible that Samardzija will out-value Heyward over the next two years (me? I’d bet on Heyward), and front-line, power-armed starters aren’t exactly easy to find. If the Cubs were asking for a considerable prospect on top of Heyward, of course, then this entire conversation changes. As it stands, if the ask was essentially, “hey, since you’ve got an extra outfielder maybe, why don’t we just swap Samardzija and Heyward?”, then I think that’s a pretty reasonable request, if the Braves were the ones coming to the Cubs.
The most intriguing part of Bowman’s report is the indication that the Cubs, in a possible Samardzija trade, were not necessarily looking solely for high-upside prospects that could kick the rebuilding can down the road a few more years (even if they would be excellent, attractive prospects). Instead, the Cubs were looking for young, big-league pieces that would seem to put the rebuild timeline somewhere in the, well, “now” time frame. Yes, the Cubs could have then looked to spin off Heyward or Upton for other prospects, and yes, the Cubs were likely just looking to get as much “value”, in whatever form, from the Braves as possible.
But, I don’t know. I don’t think you trade away a Samardzija for a Heyward if you’re thinking that trying to compete at least in 2015 is impossible or inadvisable.