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Should the Cubs Trade Jeff Samardzija?

Don’t let the 0-3 record fool you, Jeff Samardzija is pitching like a bona fide ace this season.  With a 1.98 ERA and only 2 home runs allowed in 41 innings pitched, Samardzija could yield a nice package of prospects should the Cubs decide to move him to a competitor.  Chicago already has one of the best farm systems in baseball with top-rated prospects like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Albert Almora rapidly approaching big league call-ups.  As stacked as the Cub’s system is with hitting prospects (7 out of 10 of Baseball America’s top 10 Cub’s prospects are hitters), their minor league pitching isn’t nearly as deep.  The famous phrase coined by Baseball Prospectus “there is no such thing as a pitching prospect” holds truer than ever today, as multitudes of young pitchers are either busting at the minor league level or going under the knife for elbow or rotator cuff surgeries.

A few years ago many speculated the Kansas City Royals would have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball;  however,  after top pitching prospects like Luke Hochevar, John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, and Chris Dwyer failed to live up to expectations, Kansas City was forced to compensate through trades and free agency.  The Royals traded their top hitting prospect Wil Myers in a controversial deal for two years of James Shields.  They also were pressed to sign expensive free agent pitchers like Ervin Santana and Jason Vargas. Luckily, the Royal’s bullpen and defense have been phenomenal allowing them to be competitive.  The unknown long -term effect of dealing Wil Myers and and losing Santana and Shields, could prove to be costly to Kansas City’s cash strapped franchise.   The infamous New York Mets trio of pitching prospects nicknamed “Generation K” also famously flamed out.  Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen , and Paul Wilson were projected to be a championship caliber starting rotation, but failed to live up to the hype with only Isringhausen going on to experience later success as a reliever.  The Cubs should be weary to depend on minor league talent alone for future success, which is why trading Samardzija for more prospects may not be their best option.

 

Selected by the Cubs in the fifth round of the 2006 draft, Samardzija spent three seasons in the minors before his call-up to the majors in 2008.  Samardzija experienced immediate success posting a 2.28 ERA in 26 games out of the Cubs bullpen in his rookie year.  In 2012 Samardzija became a full-time starter tossing 174 innings with 180 strikeouts, a 3.55 FIP, and a 1.21 WHIP.  In 2013 Samardzija eclipsed the 200 inning marker striking out 214 batters with a 3.77 FIP.  Unfortunately Samardzija wasn’t getting any favors from the Cubs offense or defense losing 13 games for the second straight year (a pattern that continues in 2014).  Surprisingly Samardzija has posted a higher K/9 and K/BB rate as a starter than as a reliever.   Typically a relief pitcher transitioning to a starter will see his strikeout rate dip, as they often sacrifice velocity for stamina and try to work more to contact to preserve pitch counts. With very impressive peripheral stats, and misleading traditional stats, the Cubs would be wise to lock up their current ace to a multi-year extension sooner than later.  Prospects are great, but Samardzija is an established top of the rotation starter with sneaky appeal as his most undervalued asset may be his career workload.

 

Jeff Samardzija is a baseball player tried and true.  In a laughably unbelievable story from last season, it was reported that the towering-long haired starter actually dumped his girlfriend because he felt she was too much of a distraction from his baseball career.  Now that’s dedication!!  But Samardzija’s true advantage is his right arm.  At the age of 29, Samardzija has only 599 career innings pitched.  The team that drafted him has done a wonderful job conserving the wear and tear on his arm which is why they should extend him.  Here’s a look at the projected top-tier 2015 free-agent starting pitching class provided no one is extended or goes down to injury. Career innings pitched and career FIP are listed below.

 

Max Scherzer–  IP-1,058  FIP-3.48

Jon Lester –      IP-1,417  FIP-3.67

James Shields– IP-1,723     FIP-3.78

Justin Masterson– IP-1,048 FIP-3.81

Jeff Samardzija– IP- 599       FIP-3.89

 

It will likely be four seasons until Samardzija reaches 1,000 innings which should give him a greater chance to maintain velocity and avoid injury in future seasons.  It would be wise for the Cubs to attempt to extend Samardzija in hopes he might offer a hometown discount to the team that drafted him.  The Cubs could also use his poor career win/loss record as a bargaining chip.  Samardzija is a superb athlete with excellent conditioning (he was an All-American wide receiver at Notre-Dame).  A four to five year extension at around 13-15 million a year would be a great bargain for high payroll team like Chicago to build their future rotation around.