Once again, Jeff Samardzija‘s name is all over the rumor mill. On and off for about a year, the talented Chicago Cubs pitcher has been a common name mentioned in trade rumors, and I do not see that ending anytime soon. Samardzija still has two more seasons until he reaches the open market, but with both sides seeming to be far away on an extension, a trade is seeming more and more likely by the day.
After selecting him in the fifth round of the 2006 Amateur Draft, the Cubs inked Samardzija to a deal worth $10 million directly out of college. Samardzija gave up being a surefire first-round pick in the NFL Draft to become a pitcher for the Cubs. He first reached the big leagues in 2008 as a relief pitcher. Throwing mostly out of the bullpen, Samardzija bounced back and forth between the majors and minors for a few seasons before landing a full-time middle relief role in 2011. He pitched 88 innings that season and posted a 2.97 ERA.
The Cubs gave Samardzija a chance to become a full-time starting pitcher in 2012, and he made the most of that opportunity. He had a 3.81 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 174.2 innings pitched that season, proving that he has the talent to be a starter. While the Cubs needed him to take the next step, Samardzija took a step back last season, posting a 4.34 ERA in 33 starts. While he was not as effective last year as he was before, Samardzija was among the league leaders in innings pitched (213.2) and strikeouts (214). He is far from proven and was very inconsistent last season, but Samardzija continued to show plenty of upside.
The case of what the Cubs should do with Samardzija is unique. On one hand, he is an incredibly talented pitcher who shows the upside of an ace. On the other hand, his inconsistencies make everyone wonder whether he will ever put it all together. The Cubs are put in a tricky situation, because when they discuss a contract extension with Samardzija, they have to put an emphasis on his inconsistent performance, but when discussing him in a trade with other teams, they want his raw talent and upside to be at the forefront.
Samardzija is intent to sit back and wait until the Cubs pay him what he believes he is worth. If they don’t, he seems willing to bet that he will receive the money he desires on the open market. The Cubs simply will not overpay in an extension for Samardzija. He has looked dominant at times and his talent is obvious, but he has yet to establish himself. Also, despite his lack of experience, he is already 29 years old. They cannot attach themselves to an unproven player who is older than his experience suggests without getting some sort of discount. Samardzija has every right to bet on himself and go to free agency if needed, but I do not blame the Cubs for not overspending.
With scouts from 12 MLB teams watching his Spring Training start the other day, there seems to be plenty of interest on the market. When it comes down to it, trading Samardzija for a crop of prospects is starting to look likely. That being said, the Cubs have him under contract for two more seasons. They have the advantage of waiting out the market to make sure they get full value for their player, but if they wait too long, he could lose value. That’s why a trade before the season seems unlikely, but I think he will be dealt before the July 31 trade deadline.
With the king’s ransom of prospects that the Cubs received from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza deal last season, I am confident that the Cubs will land a fair return in any deal involving Samardzija. It may not be ideal, but if they cannot come to an agreement on an extension soon, a trade is the best thing for both parties.