On the balance, it still remains the likeliest July outcome that Jeff Samardzija is pitching for another team come August. But, I’ve always kept a crack in the door for the possibility of an extension between the Cubs and Samardzija, and GM Jed Hoyer made sure to preserve that crack earlier this year, even as expectations of a trade swirled.
Well, Gordon Wittenmyer is here to offer hope to the true believers among you.
Writing for the Sun-Times, Wittenmyer reports that the Cubs have “quietly” reached out to Jeff Samardzija with a new contract offer. As you’ll recall, Samardzija is under team control through 2015, and the sides previously discussed an extension that was believed to be in the five-year, $55/$60 million range. At the time, that was far lower than what Samardzija was willing to accept, and that was the last we heard about numbers.
How much is the new offer? Wittenmyer can’t say for certain, but he hears that it’s five years and more than $60/$65 million, and at least one source indicated that the $17.5 million average annual value that Homer Bailey got in his extension with the Reds could be what it takes to get Samardzija to agree. I’m not sure Bailey is a perfect comp, on a performance basis, for Samardzija – heading into his extension, Bailey was a year younger, more consistent, and had slightly better peripherals – but I can understand why that’s where Samardzija would be pegging his own value.
The interesting thing about that Bailey extension is that, when Bailey inked it – before the season – it was hard to call it a comp on a dollar-for-dollar basis for Samardzija, because Bailey had just one year of team control left, and Samardzija had two. But, as this season has gone on, the comp starts to become slightly more relevant. That is not only because Samardzija has pitched like a stud this year (further lengthening his track record of Bailey-esque performance, if you want to put it that way), but also because Samardzija is getting closer to free agency.
In that regard, I wonder: if the Cubs are still willing to do a five-year extension on Samardzija, is it actually now longer than the five-year extension they were willing to do previously? In other words, the previous offer would have included 2014 and 2015 – years of team control already – and then three years of free agency (ages 29 through 33). If there is a current five-year offer on the table, perhaps it includes only 2015 and then four years of free agency. The latter would be for Samardzija’s ages 30 through 34 seasons, given the Cubs an “extra” year of control, but also Samardzija an extra year of big-money security in his mid-30s. (I wonder if the recent Justin Verlander struggles (before his huge extension even kicks in) are hanging in the minds of the Cubs and Samardzija.)
That is all to say, this may not simply be the Cubs taking a run at Samardzija with the same basic terms and a touch more money. This could actually be the Cubs, effectively, tacking on another year to their previous offer. That has the potential to be very significant, and could be enough to change Samardzija’s mind (especially when you consider his comments about wanting to be a part of a winner). Throw in a rash of pitcher injuries since the start of the year, the re-emergence of Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, and a core that does look like it could plausibly compete in 2015 if the Cubs spend some money, and maybe this is all a different conversation than it was a few months ago.
If you were ballparking a reasonable Samardzija extension, using both projected WAR value (4.0 in 2015, and declining 0.5 WAR thereafter; using $6 million per win) and discounting for the 2015 arb year, plus scheduling out some standard backloading, it would probably look something like this:
2015: $9 million (remember, this is an arb-controlled year)
2016: $12 million
2017: $15 million
2018: $18 million
2019: $21 million
That’s a total of $75 million over the five years, which sounds about right as an understandable ceiling for the Cubs. That is not inclusive of any signing bonuses or options, which would likely be a part of the puzzle. (For reference, if Samardzija got Bailey’s $17.5 million AAV over five years, that would be $87.5 million. My guess is there are your bookends for the negotiation process, with the Cubs starting a little lower than $75 million, and the Samardzija camp starting a little higher than $87.5 million. That’s a fairly significant gap to bridge.)
So, do I think this extension business goes somewhere?
I still say probably not, even as I think a reasonable extension is the best outcome for everyone involved. At 29, Samardzija has only a few years of tip-top prime performance ahead of him (which is not to say he might not still be very valuable thereafter, too), and he has said that he doesn’t want to spend those years on a team that won’t be competitive. No one can blame him for feeling that way, and, unless the Cubs are going to do something inadvisably huge in an extension offer, I’m not sure I see Samardzija willing to sign on long-term right now.
I do think, however, based on everything above, that this could all be legitimate. That is to say, I don’t think the Cubs are merely re-approaching Samardzija about an extension to create additional trade leverage (“We still want to keep this guy long-term, so, if you want to acquire him, your offer better be over the top.”). Sure, the appearance of a legitimate extension possibility can help in trade talks, but I think this front office knows that Samardzija can be particularly valuable to this organization – at this point in time – over the next few years. Why not take at least one final, serious shot at re-signing him before proceeding with trade plans?
We’ll see if this goes anywhere beyond this one report. I suspect we’ll hear a touch more about in the coming weeks, but I tend to think trade rumors will remain the predominant Samardzija story line.