With David Price signing with the Red Sox and Zack Greinke currently deciding between the Dodgers and the Giants, the Cubs will have to look elsewhere in free agency to obtain their next starting pitcher. One known to be high on the list of the front office, but very low for the team’s fans is Jeff Samardzija. Let’s take a look at the familiar starter and what it may take to sign him.
To say Samardzija’s 2015 season was a disaster is an understatement. The Chicago White Sox went all in last offseason and Shark was their big acquisition to add further depth to a strong starting staff. Unfortunately, Samardzija didn’t hold up his end of the bargain and struggled to an 11-13 record, 4.96 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 163 strikeouts in 214 innings. He also led the AL with most hits allowed, (228) earned runs (118) and home runs (29) allowed. Reports from across town surmised that the rise in overall numbers came from a reduction in use of his two-seam fastball in favor of a cutter and not meshing with pitching coach Don Cooper.
Those numbers were a far cry from his previous three seasons where he pitched to a 24-39 record, 3.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 596 strikeouts in 608 innings. At 31 and only four seasons of starting under his belt, Samardzija has a lot less mileage on his arm than his competition. In those four years, his 647.1 innings rank him sixth in baseball and second in overall fastball velocity at 94.6 mph. It’s probably no coincidence that his best overall pitching statistics were under the tutelage of pitching coach Chris Bosio, so it’s definitely possible he could return to his former glory.
The sticking point of course will depend on the deal he is seeking. Prior to his trade from the team, Samardzija turned down a five-year, $85 million extension and will likely aim for a similar number. With so many other potential suitors, he can probably afford to be a little picky even though whoever signs him will have to forfeit their first available draft pick due to him rejecting the White Sox’s qualifying offer.
Since the Cubs ended up with the third best record in baseball and lost out to the Mets in the playoffs, they currently hold the 28th pick. With a return from center fielder Dexter Fowler who rejected the Cubs qualifying offer unlikely, the Cubs will gain a pick at the end of the first round. Therefore, the draft pick compensation is less of a sticking point which is probably why it has already been reported that the front office and Samardzija have already sat down together about a possible return.
A nice comparable contract to the potential overall value of Samardzija comes from another converted reliever C.J. Wilson of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Wilson spent five seasons as a reliever and closer before making the switch to starter in 2010. He parlayed two dominant seasons into a five-year, $77.5 million deal at age 31. Wilson has been pretty durable and effective in the first three seasons of his deal pitching 590.1 innings with a 3.87 ERA. However, Wilson lasted just 132 innings and 21 starts last season, but even with bone spurs in his elbow still posted a 3.89 ERA. If a team gets that out of Samardzija, the first round pick cost could be worth it.
Depending on the team, Samardzija is likely a low end number two starter, but in a rotation headlined by Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, he would make a solid third starter with some upside. Even in his disaster season last year, he still managed two complete game shutouts so the talent is still there. Samardzija may not be the sexiest of names, but he arguably is the most talented of the second-tier pitchers and probably half the cost of aces like Price and Greinke. With the Cubs still looking to improve their outfield defense and add a center fielder, the cost of Jeff Samardzija may be too good to pass up.
Free Agent Profiles
• Follow Chris on Twitter: @TheChrisKulawik