Coming into this season, Jeff Samardzija, as a starting pitcher, passed the eye test with flying colors. Did you watch him the last two years? Forgive the inarticulate old-schooling, but the dude just looked like an ace. Sure, he lost it at times, and he wore down late in the seasons as his innings totals were being stretched, but he looked the part.
Further, if you dug into the peripherals, they suggested a guy who could be getting a whole lot better results. The stuff was nasty, the velocity was there, and he was always getting strikeouts. There was simply a corner to turn, and he could be a top 15 pitcher in baseball. You didn’t have to be a soothsayer or even a sabermetrician to project the possibility.
Jeff Samardzija, 2014: 1.62 ERA (2nd in baseball) over 61 innings (10th), with a 2.86 FIP (18th) and a 1.4 WAR (15th).
Yes. He’s been something this year.
Fast-forward to, say, late-June to mid-July, and Samardzija’s name is going to be everywhere. Assuming he stays healthy, pitches effectively, and isn’t extended, Samardzija is going to be among the two or three hottest names on the trade market. David Price might be the top name by then, but, at present, he’s not pitching as well as Samardzija, and stands to cost a hell of a lot more money over the next year and a half. And the Rays might not even trade him.
Buster Olney wondered that and started asking around. The verdict is something folks around here have been suggesting for a while now: if Matt Garza netted the haul that he did for just two months of service, how much is a year and a half of Jeff Samardzija going to net?
You can absolutely put the Garza deal down as the baseline for any Samardzija trade – that was four organizational top 10/15 guys, one of whom was a clear top 100 at the time of the trade (Edwards – shot up considerably even after that), and one of whom was a rebounding former top 30 guy (Olt).
With Samardzija, you can expect that the Cubs will try to land more impact types – perhaps two elite arms, or one elite arm and one elite outfielder would do the trick – but it’s very hard to see them getting anything less than the substantial return they got on Garza.
I could argue that the better trade parallel in recent years is not Garza, but is RA Dickey, who was dealt by the Mets to the Blue Jays before the start of the 2013 season. Samardzija’s performance expectation isn’t quite what Dickey’s was at the time of the trade (the dude was a Cy Young winner), but Samardzija’s peripherals are actually comparable to Dickey’s at the time, Samardzija is under control for longer, Samardzija is younger (though the whole knuckleballer thing kind of messes with that), and Samardzija will be dealt to a team that is already in the race this year (marginal wins for competitive teams in August and September are extremely valuable, and the urge to make a trade is even higher because said team already knows it is in a position to need those marginal wins).
I don’t want to be over the top, but just looking at it that way, you could argue that Samardzija is more valuable now than Dickey was then. I won’t go that far, but I’ll at least suggest that it’s a trade comparable. In that deal, the Blue Jays got Dickey (and the right to extend him, which is of debatable value) and a couple back-up catchers for prospects Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard and Wuilmer Becerra, and catcher John Buck. You can kind of throw out the catchers in the deal, because there were some “personal catcher” and financial idiosyncrasies that primarily explain their inclusion. So, for the most part, you’re looking at Dickey for d’Arnaud, Syndergaard and Becerra.
I’m starting to see why the Cubs reportedly asked the Blue Jays for Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and a third piece for Jeff Samardzija. Although d’Arnaud was recovering from a knee injury, he was top 20/25 prospect in all of baseball at the time of the trade. Syndergaard was also a top 20/25 prospect in all of baseball at the time of the trade. And then Becerra was an 18-year-old bonus baby from the international class two years prior, who had already played in Rookie Ball at age 17.
That’s two elite prospects, plus a third very legit prospect, for one year of R.A. Dickey.
Will the Cubs pull that off for Samardzija? If he keeps doing what he’s doing, and enough teams keep on needing pitchers, then I think they might. At a minimum, they’d be able to fetch something in value between the Dickey deal and the Garza deal. And that ain’t too bad.
Obligatory concluding caveat reiteration: this assumes health, effectiveness, and no surprise extension.