You know who was really good as a starting pitcher with the Chicago Cubs? Jeff Samardzija.
I know he stirs strong emotions in Cubs fans for a variety of reasons, but the thing is, the dude was good enough to be the main piece in a trade that netted Addison Russell, among other pieces. He put up 7.4 WAR in just 2.5 seasons as a starting pitcher with the Cubs.
After he was dealt, though, Samardzija expressed some frustration about the Cubs’ rebuilding process, and a lot of folks hold that stuff against him, which, hey, that’s your right as a fan. For me, it no longer bothers me when I think about a guy who spent his prime years pitching for terrible teams, primarily so he could be traded away with others for the pieces that would go on to win a World Series. I’d be a little chapped, too.
But it’s not as if the front office didn’t like Jeff Samardzija. They offered him an extension. They checked in on him when he reached free agency. And he was mentioned by Bruce Levine as a possible trade target for the Cubs as far back as May.
And now Levine is back to make that connection again.
“It’s expected the Cubs will try to make another [pitcher trade], perhaps chasing Giants right-hander Jeff Samardzija (three years, $59 million left on his deal) or Rays right-hander Chris Archer (four years and $34 million left if two team options are exercised),” Levine writes.
The Archer connection has been frequent over the past two years and will continue to be so throughout this offseason.
But what about Samardzija?
At a non-specific level, you’ve got a guy who turns 33 next year, has a track record of good health, and will make nearly $20 million per season for the next three years. There’s familiarity there between the Cubs and Samardzija, though mostly at a front office level – Samardzija was traded before Joe Maddon was hired, and now his former pitching coach, Chris Bosio, has departed.
On a performance basis, Samardzija has had an odd go of it post-Cubs, continuing to put up good peripherals but mediocre ERAs. Consider in 2017, when Samardzija posted a 4.42 ERA (6% worse than league average) despite pitching in a very nice park for pitchers. Meanwhile, his FIP (3.61) was 12% better than league average, and his strikeout (24.2%) and walk (3.8%) were downright eye-poppingly good.
Consider: in the three years since he left the Cubs, Samardzija’s 625.0 innings are the fourth most in baseball. That’s a lot of use, but it’s also a lot of demonstrated durability. He’s just ahead of Chris Archer and Jose Quintana, and just behind Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, and Max Scherzer. His 9.0 WAR is 24th most among starters with at least 400 innings over those three years. His 3.90 FIP is 33rd, sandwiched between Sonny Gray and Masahiro Tanaka. The ERA is what really sticks out, which, at 4.41, is 60th. The fact that he has the 5th lowest left-on-base rate over that stretch plays a huge part, and makes you wonder: is this a guy who has had EXTREMELY bad sequencing luck over the past three years (and has pitched with some terrible bullpens), or is this a guy who simply pitches much worse when runners reach base?
I tend to think Samardzija is much better than his ERA, particularly that 2017 ERA, which was blown up by two terrible outings in Colorado. (It happens.)
All that said, I don’t think there’s a ton of trade value there on his contract, but I do think that’s a guy worth exploring. That’s especially true given the Cubs’ need and past relationship with Samardzija. Theo Epstein wants to see the organization get more strike-throwers in the door? Well, if Samardzija is made available, that’s a good one right there.
Will Samardzija be available? Yeah, I tend to think the Giants know what’s up, and will employ a short-term rebuilding process to try to be competitive before they lose the best years of Posey-Belt-Crawford-Bumgarner. If they were willing to eat a little of Samardzija’s contract, then I actually think they could net a fairly nice return. And the Cubs, for their lack of top tier prospects, probably do have a number of intriguing prospects to be able to put that kind of deal together.
So, yeah, in case you can’t read between the lines: count me very in for the Cubs to pursue Jeff Samardzija in trade. Great peripherals, usable contract (especially if the Giants eat a little), good past with the Cubs, great track record of health, and an extreme need for the Cubs.