Although he gave up three home runs on a day with the wind blowing in – admitted, not good – there were times yesterday when Jeff Samardzija looked downright dominant.
You know that Ian Happ walk? That was the first walked he’d issued this month. Samardzija’s 4.50 ERA this year is uninspiring, but that comes with a .320 BABIP (far higher than career mark), a 66.7% LOB rate (far lower than career mark), and a 16.4% HR/FB ratio (far higher than career mark). Everything that could be going wrong on the luck side of the equation has gone wrong.
His strikeout rate (28.6%) and walk rate (4.0%), by contrast, have been ridiculously good. There may be some things he’s not doing well when it comes to contact in the air (which he’s allowing too often, to be fair), but the guy is clearly pitching very well in the zone. Moreover, he’s made actual, substantive (like, easy to see!) mechanical changes this year that seem to be working very well.
I say all of that as a backdrop to Bruce Levine’s latest on the former Cubs pitcher, whom he suggests could make sense as a Cubs trade target.
The Giants are now nine games under .500, 11 back in the NL West, are without Madison Bumgarner for a long stretch, and face an uphill climb in a division that features three of the (current) best teams in the NL. The Giants have some tradable pieces and a farm system in need of restocking. Perhaps a mini-rebuild would be in order, and, if so, Samardzija might be among the players the Giants tried to trade.
And if that happens, the Cubs would at least have to kick the tires, right?
Consider that Samardzija, 32, was obviously very comfortable and successful in the Cubs’ pitching infrastructure. Further consider the team’s significant rotation needs after this season. Samardzija is under contract for three seasons after this one, and could go a long way toward bridging the Cubs’ gap between pitching this year and the hope that some of their young arms will eventually emerge at the big league level in the coming years.
To be quite clear, I don’t see this making sense unless the Giants have decided that they got the two years they wanted out of Samardzija during the last best chunk of their competitive window, and now are willing to take what they can get for him (relative to however much of his contract they eat). I’m not sure it will get to that point for the Giants, but if they actually wanted to get a lot of value for Samardzija, they’re going to be up against a Trade Deadline that should feature a number of interesting arms, and two impending free agent classes that could be quite strong in pitching. Three and a half years of a 32-year-old Jeff Samardzija at $20 million per year is not necessarily a bargain.
But that’s not the same thing as saying he’s not an arm worth having in the rotation for a few years at the right price.
If the Giants do shop Samardzija, they may have to eat a portion of the contract to make it happen. Given the Cubs’ coming arbitration raises and already pushing up against the luxury tax cap, I’d expect they’d be reluctant to add Samardzija for three years at his current rate, regardless of the prospect cost. If the Giants ate a portion of the contract? Well, then having Samardzija could actually help the Cubs’ luxury tax situation by providing cost certainty with respect to one of their rotation arms.
And about that prospect cost, when the market is considered, the cost might be much more reasonable than, say, for someone like Chris Archer (whom we discussed yesterday). You get what you pay for and all that, but if you’re of the belief that Samardzija is showing improvement this year and could continue that in a place he has previously demonstrated comfort, maybe you could talk yourself into believing a modest trade for Samardzija is a better deal than a monster (big-league-talent-gobbling) trade for Archer.
Look, I’m just sorting through this out loud. There’s quite a bit of distance between here and there, but, given the Cubs’ possible short-term need for a back-end starter, and long-term need for much more big-league-capable starting pitching, I’m just saying I don’t see why Samardzija should be off the table.
Should he be an aggressively pursued target? Well, that depends a great deal on the market, and on how the Cubs’ needs evolve over the next two months.