Cubs Need Samardzija to Avoid the June Swoon

Guess what, it is June, Jeff Samardzija is struggling once again and it is bad timing for both Samardzija and the Cubs.

The Cubs and Samardzija spent the off-season trying to work out a contract extension. The Cubs value what Samardzija brings to the table and Samardzija said he wanted to stay with the team. However, the Cubs and Samardzija could not reach a middle ground on an extension. The two sides are believed to be $25-30 million apart on a five-six year contract extension. And many think the Cubs could be looking at a deal similar to the one Homer Bailey inked with the Reds (six years, $105 million), plus some kind of no-trade protection, in order to extend his contract.

While the Cubs were believed to be discussing an extension with Mark Rodgers, Samardzija’s agent, the front office was listening to offers for Jeff Samardzija during the off-season, but was not offered the right package of prospects. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will not give Samardzija away. Samardzija has one more year of control left on his contract after this season and his last year of salary arbitration will not break any team’s budget.

Once the season started, it was believed at the time that extension talks with Samardzija were over and he would be traded at some point before the July 31 deadline. As it turns out, Jeff Samardzija and the Cubs have reportedly not cut off contract talks, and while the chance is slim the two sides could work out an extension, there is still a chance. But it takes two sides to be willing to work out a deal and based on comments Samardzija made during the first two months of the season, he is looking forward to testing free agency and he feels he is obligated to future big league players not to sign a contract extension for less than  what he would receive in free agency.

So if the Cubs and Samardzija cannot work out a deal, the front office must maximize his value and try to land the best package of young pitchers (plus other prospects), as possible for the team’s biggest trading chip.

Jeff Samardzija spent the off-season and Spring Training saying he is a top of the rotation starter. And he performed as one, again, for the first two months of the season. Think about it, while too much was being made in the mainstream media about his win-loss record, questions were being made if a pitcher without a win could start the All-Star game. It could be argued, Samardzija was the best pitcher in the National League in April and May.

Over his first five starts, Samardzija allowed 11 runs, nine earned on 33 hits with 11 walks and 28 strikeouts in 34 innings (2.38 ERA, 1.29 WHIP). Samardzija cut down the free passes, was pitching more to contact and more importantly, deeper into games. Samardzija completed at least seven innings in each of his first five starts and six of his first seven.

Samardzija followed up his first month of the season with a sensational May. In five starts, Samardzija gave up nine runs, five earned, on 21 hits with eight walks and 33 strikeouts in 34 innings (1.32 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP). Only one baseball left the park off of Samardzija in May and he limited teams to a .174 batting average. And while he was putting up the numbers, he was pitching with confidence as well as dealing with the constant trade talk and rumors.

Then he took the mound in Milwaukee on June 1.

Jeff Samardzija was shelled like the Brewers knew what he was going to throw before he made the pitch. Samardzija bounced back, somewhat, in his start against the Marlins before the Pirates pounded the baseball Thursday night. While four runs in six innings is not that bad, six of nine hits going for extra bases and a single to right that was hit so hard that Andrew McCutchen could not score from second base is not good. Samardzija has allowed 14 runs on 22 hits with five walks and 18 strikeouts in 16 innings over his last three starts (7.88 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) while the Brewers, Marlins and Pirates have hit .338 against him. And this is a reoccurring theme for Samardzija over the course of his career.

June has by far been Samardzija’s worst month throughout his big league career. In June of 2012, after putting up solid numbers in April and excellent numbers in May, Samardzija allowed 27 runs on 33 hits with 15 walks and 20 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings (10.41 ERA, 2.06 WHIP). Last year, Samardzija started the season strong before dipping in June again. Samardzija allowed 20 runs, 19 earned, on 47 hits with 13 walks and 40 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings (4.20 ERA, 1.48 WHIP). The slide in June led to a bad second half in which he allowed 48 runs, 47 earned, on 93 hits with 34 walks and 86 strikeouts (4.72 ERA, 1.42 WHIP). Samardzija showed signs of a number one pitcher after the break, but for every good start he had, there was one equally as bad if not worse.

Jeff Samardzija said he learned a lot last year during his first full season in a big league rotation. But Thursday night’s start in Pittsburgh looked all too familiar. Samardzija appeared to be trying to blow hitters away again. He was pitching, not throwing, in April and May.

Whether the front office trades Jeff Samardzija or not this summer, or decides to try to extend his contract again, Samardzija needs to pitch better that he has over his last three games and show those starts are exceptions and not the standard. Because neither Samardzija nor the Cubs will benefit from another June swoon.

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