Toronto Blue Jays Rumors: Would Jeff Samardzija Fill Empty Ace Role In 2014?

By Thom Tsang
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Few teams in MLB know how difficult it is to find a true ace like the Toronto Blue Jays do.

For years, the bluebirds’ fan base had the luxury of watching one of the best of his generation, Roy Halladay, ply his trade at the Rogers Center to relatively little fanfare around the baseball world. This was mostly because the team wasn’t quite good enough to compete, even with the perennial Cy Young candidate. Now that they’ve got a core that should be — at least on paper — good enough to content in the AL East … it’s the rotation that’s been a constant letdown.

That’s not for the lack of trying on behalf of GM Alex Anthopoulos, of course, but since Doc moved his office to Philadelphia, the Blue Jays have gone through a host of would-be aces: Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and R.A. Dickey — with what you might say are mixed results (to be nice).

And since there’s no established ace available in free agency, the team will have to dig into the trade market and hope that their next acquisition can take the top job on the rotation.

Could Chicago Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija be that player? If Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi is right, Toronto certainly hopes so.

While the former starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter again is currently set to anchor the Cubs’ rotation going forward, he does so almost by default. That’s no knock against his obviously considerable talents, but to say that he’s been an elite pitcher would be a misnomer … at least for now.

See, there’s really only been two full major league seasons of the 28-year old for Toronto to look at as a track record, and at 5.8 fWAR from 2012-2013 with a cumulative 4.10/1.29 ERA/WHIP, he’s more of a solid no. 2 or no. 3 pitcher on a contending team with a good rotation today. That’s not what the Blue Jays are at this point though, so projecting results is just about the best they can do.

And fortunately, there are good reasons to suggest that Samardzija could be poised to become the type of player that the Blue Jays need.

First and foremost, the stuff is there — whether you’re looking at his 11.2 percent swinging strike rate over the last two seasons, the 9.13 K/9 or the fact that he throws hard (94.6 mpg average fastball in 2012), it’s not hard to see why Anthopoulos is far from the only exec in the bigs to covet the hard-thrower.

What would help him with a potential move to the AL Beast, however, is the fact that on top of being able to generate whiffs, he’s already got the ground ball thing down too, posting a good 1.53 GB/FB rate last year to mitigate a 13.3 percent HR/FB rate. While the numbers suggest that his 1.05 HR/9 rate will likely take a bump at the homer-prone Rogers Center, the ground ball rates suggest that the adjustment might not be too harsh.

Those numbers, however, haven’t exactly translated into the type of breakout season that would move him up the next echelon, and should he land on the Blue Jays for 2014, a comparison of what they might be able to expect based on past precedent would be similar to Morrow’s 3.4 fWAR 2011 in which he posted 4.72/1.29 ERA/WHIP over 30 starts.

That said, one of the things that Morrow had to learn in 2012 was to try to develop more of a ground ball approach (he posted his first 1.00-plus GB/FB season), and Samardzija is already ahead of him in that regard, not to mention that he’s had relatively little wear on his arm and is in his prime …

Ah, there’s that optimism again — and it’s this that could see the Blue Jays dangle at least one of Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman in hopes that they get a bite from Chicago. But, you can bet that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will ask for both.

Whether it’d be worth it in the long run might hinge on whether Samardzija can have that 5.0-plus fWAR season one day; and while he would certainly be able to contribute positively to Toronto’s chances in 2014, it’d be difficult to say that he’s shown the capability to lead the team’s starting five.

And if Toronto aren’t going to get that kind of difference-maker at the cost of a couple of top prospects and a long-term extension … why not stretch for a more established target instead?

Thom is an MLB writer for Follow him on Twitter @BlueJaysRant, or add him to your network on Google

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