On Friday afternoon in Mesa, Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija spoke to the media about the trade rumors and reports of contract squabbles between the 29-year old and the team over this offseason, and his comments didn’t leave much mystery as to where he stands with the organization at this point.
“We’re not really going to talk about that,” he said. “We’re getting ready to compete and win some ballgames. So for me, it’s a no comment.”
Samardzija may have talked a good game about leaving it at that, but he went deeper as the interview wore on.
“If there wasn’t a gap there I would have already signed,” he said of his inability to come to terms on a long-term deal with the Cubs. “All I can do is increase my value as much as possible. That helps the organization no matter what.”
Samardzija also added this little gem: “the more this process goes along the more I realize this is a business and that attachment only goes so far.”
As we’ve already discussed previously, Samardzija didn’t exactly light the world on fire last season. His 4.34 ERA was a half-run higher than it had been the season before, and his 8-13 record wasn’t all that great either. Granted, there were plenty of reasons for that, including his .320 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), which shows that he did suffer from some bad luck and some lackluster defense behind him. He also saw his wins above replacement player go up slightly to 2.4, so there is definitely still some potential there.
The problem for Samardzija and the Cubs is that they have different opinions of just what that potential actually is. Samardzija seems to think that he is going to be an ace-caliber pitcher when the Cubs are actually competing for division titles, but the team doesn’t really see it that way. They see him as more of a number two or three starter, who will be good for 13-15 wins a season for a good team and strike out a batter or so per inning. Those are solid numbers, but definitely not worth the kind of money that Samardzija seems to want.
Baseball Prospectus seems to agree with the Cubs’ assertions on the matter. They do have Samardzija improving marginally in the 2014 season, dropping his ERA back below four and bringing his WHIP down from 1.35 to 1.28, which would be more in line with the 1.22 he posted back in 2012 in his first year as a full-time starter.
Even if he hits those modest benchmarks, that still isn’t ace-quality stuff. In fact, those numbers are right around what BP has projected for Edwin Jackson for the 2014 season, and the 4-year, $52 million contract he signed looks like more and more of a bust every day. If Samardzija is going to end up around Jackson territory in terms of his statistics, then he certainly does not deserve to be paid anywhere close to ace money, and the Cubs should probably hold a firm line around $10-11 million per season.
One of the biggest arguments that Samardzija and his supporters use is that he is a good pitcher when it comes to going up against the better teams in the league. Looking at his numbers from last season against 2013 playoff teams leaves that up for debate, however. In 88.2 innings pitched against playoff clubs, Samardzija had a 4.06 ERA, a 1.43 WHIP, and a K/9 of 10.56. Granted, the 2-8 record (along with four no decisions) that he posted in 14 starts against those opponents isn’t the fairest measure of how he did, but those other metrics don’t exactly fill fans with confidence.
With only modestly better numbers against playoff-caliber opponents last season, it’s hard to argue that Samardzija is some kind of big-game pitcher who does well against the cream of the crop. Yes, he has been quite unlucky over the past few years to pitch for a team that doesn’t provide him much in the way of run support or quality defense, but it’s hard to argue that he’s an ace pitcher trapped in a bad situation.
Instead, it’s much more plausible to say that Samardzija is a solid number two or three starter for most pennant contenders, and the only way that he should be able to make ace money is if another team desperate for a guy for the top half of the rotation overpays him. The Cubs would be better served investing that kind of money into other players, but if they are able to get Samardzija to agree to a deal in the $10 million range (unlikely, but not impossible), then that is what they should try to do.