While his future with the Chicago Cubs remains mostly cloudy, Jeff Samardzija continues to do the one thing within his control that can lead to only good things for both Samardzija and the Cubs: pitch like a freaking beast.
Samardzija’s 1.62 ERA is second-best in baseball, behind only Johnny Cueto. He’s tied for 16th in baseball in WAR for starting pitchers, and he’s completely reinvented himself (in a good way). Pitching to contact early in the game, with a limited arsenal, and then saving his best stuff for later in the game, Samardzija has his groundball rate up to a robust 52.8%, 22nd in baseball. That’s a career high for him, and it’s ticked up every year since 2010 (and it’s gotten really good under Chris Bosio, who seems to be a groundball-inducing wizard).
That’s really all Samardzija can do at this point. As Jed Hoyer said yesterday, the Cubs and Samardzija’s camp are still having discussions about an extension, but very few believe that’s a legitimate possibility anymore. If not, the trade rumors are coming. Quickly.
Enter Bruce Levine, who reports that the Blue Jays had “top scout” Jim Beattie in to watch Samardzija last night. We recently heard that the Cubs have continued to scout top Blue Jays pitching prospect Marcus Stroman, so there’s at least a little bit of early-season smoke here. Add that to the considerable offseason Cubs/Blue Jays smoke, and it’s interesting. Keep in mind: those offseason rumors had the Cubs asking for both Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez (another top 100 type), and a third piece. It was an extremely aggressive ask, but completely justified by the circumstances. Would the Cubs stick to those guys midseason? We’ll see. Levine adds that the Cubs have been scouting Blue Jays prospects all the way back into Spring Training.
For his part, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulous isn’t biting on the rumors.
Anthopoulous tells Kin Fidlin that there are no “active trade talks,” that there hasn’t been any “exchange of names,” and that it’s generally too early to have any kind of real trade talks. Hoyer has said the same thing this week, so Anthopoulous’s denial is actually not technically a denial. He said there haven’t been any specific trade talks yet, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that were completely true.
But that doesn’t mean the scouting dance, and future contingency planning, isn’t taking place. If the Blue Jays – currently 16-17, 1.5 back in the AL East – stay in the race on into June, and still have a need for a starter, I think you will see these rumors really taking off.
Of course, if Samardzija keeps pitching like he has been, there will be about 10 other teams lining up to try and grab him by then.