Cubs’ fans are suddenly feeling some deja-vu this season. At this time last year, Matt Garza could not reach an extension deal with the front office in Spring Training and the trade rumors started flying once he started dominating on the mound. Thanks to the sudden epidemic of Tommy John surgeries, many MLB teams are seeing their pitching depth stretched to the limit and making them more desperate. The time has come for Jeff Samardzija to be the Cubs next trade chip to further rebuild their farm system. So what kind of value can Cubs fans expect back for their ace pitcher?
Like Garza, Samardzija has a similar skill set as he can dominate games, strike out batters and can unravel at a moment’s notice. Samardzija though carries more value than Garza did at the same time last year thanks to being younger, not having an injury history and being able to be retained the following season for the acquiring team. The control is the key in any potential trade as the team may be able to negotiate an extension with Samardzija and therefore may be willing to give up more in terms of young talent. That was the original goal for the trade of Garza in 2012, but he hurt himself and necessitated the Cubs hanging on to him for a year longer than they wanted to.
Speaking of Garza, the deal that sent him to the Cubs from the Rays is a good first example of potential return for Samardzija. At the time of the trade, Garza had three successful and promising seasons under his belt, was 27 years old and had three years of control left. After a disappointing 2010, the team was looking to rebuild their pitching staff with a young star to staff that included Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano. The Cubs mortgaged much of their farm system for Garza and gave up prospects SS Hak-Ju Lee, RHP Chris Archer, C Robinson Chirinos and OF Sam Fuld and OF Brandon Guyer. Too bad the Cubs did not hang onto Archer or they might be in a completely different place with the rebuild.
Another deal that comes to mind when evaluating potential returns for Samardzija is another Rays pitcher, James Shields. Shields was shipped to the Royals along with RHP Wade Davis and INF Elliot Johnson for INF Patrick Leonard, LHP Mike Montgomery, RHP Jake Odorizzi and OF Wil Myers. The reason that this trade makes sense is that Shields at the time of the deal was 30 and although he had more years of experience, like Samardzija, he also has been durable, has the ability to miss bats and brought two years of control to the Royals. This control may have made it easier for the Royals to give up the headliners of the deal in Montgomery, a former top pitching prospect reclamation project, Odorizzi, a promising and close to the majors starting pitching prospect and Wil Myers a potentially 20 home run bat.
Because of Samardzija’s great start to the season and the fact he is the number one starter on the Cubs staff, the deal that the Brewers made for Zack Greinke from the Royals can be cited. Sure, Greinke had a lot more Major League experience and arguably more talent than Samardzija has, but at the time of the trade, Greinke was like Samardzija, by far the best player on a weak team. The trade along with INF Yuniesky Betancourt sent OF Lorenzo Cain, SS Alcides Escobar and RHP Jeremy Jeffress and RHP Jake Odorizzi to Kansas City. The deal brought some close to the majors talent in a toolsy centerfield prospect in Cain, a starting shortstop in Escobar, a talented project in Jeffress and a quality starting pitching prospect, in Odorizzi, that would end up being a headline player in another deal.
The most recent trade for young pitching has the lowest return and may signal what teams are more willing to give up at the deadline this season. Doug Fister, who has just two years of control left was swapped by the Tigers to the Nationals for utility INF Steve Lombardozzi and LHP Ian Krol and LHP Robbie Ray. Krol immediately stepped into the Tigers bullpen as an effective lefty arm while Ray has moved into the rotation and dominated early. Lombardozzi didn’t even break camp with the team before he was sent to the Orioles for SS Alex Gonzalez, but has been a good bat off the bench for Baltimore.
Any of these deals discussed have a recurring theme, controllable young talent and this season, so far, is showing that it’s something the Cubs sorely need. The team does have some intriguing names like Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant in the minors, but many of these guys are some years away and what the Cubs need to be successful is some decent players to fill in the blanks. Right now the front office is spending their baseball dollars on reclamation projects and free agents looking to rebuild their value to fill holes (and use as potential trade chips) instead of using young cheap talent and saving their baseball money to use on better players. The above trades show what can be obtained for a top flight arm, here’s hoping the Cubs can obtain the players they need in a deal for Jeff Samardzija to accelerate the rebuild.