And The Last Straw
It’s generally how it always works. There’s a leak of one last contract offer, one last leak of a rejection of that offer by the player, all meant to soften the blow of his trade a few weeks later with a “What more can we do?” gesture.
So it was yesterday, as reports leaked that Jeff Samardzija had turned down a five-year offer worth somewhere between $85-$90 million. While this Cubs administration, at least on the baseball side, generally hasn’t give one flying fuck what the press and fans think as they execute their plan, this one seemed a bit calculated. And it did because the math on Shark has changed a bit this year.
Before this season, the general thought was that on a good team, a contending team, that he really didn’t cap out as anything more than a #2 starter. And you thought, “Well, if we could flip him for something that will be a #1 downy he road, that’s a trade up.” And the Samardzija came out and led the league in ERA for six weeks. He’s 4th in the NL in WAR among pitchers. 7th in FIP. He may not be a league-leading ace (you saw one of those last night in L.A. striking out 15 and giving up no hits), but Shark has looked like he could lead a staff.
Of course, the problem with finding Shark’s worth and what an extension should cost is the unique calculation of the miles on his arm. Because of his football career and not throwing in the fall as other pitchers would have in their upbringing, Shark isn’t as old as other 30-year-old pitchers are. But how much younger? No one has really any idea.
The Homer Bailey extension, that of 5 years and $105 mildo, is considered the benchmark. Bailey is only two years younger than Samardzija, but he has thrown 300 more innings. When you stack the past three seasons, the only ones that Samardzija has been starting, Shark has been slightly better than Bailey. So you sense that asking for that money is certainly in the pocket.
If we just for argument’s sake say that Bailey got a pretty rich deal, are there other comparisons? Shark did get to see the Cubs throw close to $70 million at Anibal Sanchez. Well, Sanchez put up a sub-3.00 ERA and FIP and a 1.1 WHIP up in the American League last year, and has been even better this year so far. He’s getting 5 years and $88 million from Detroit. Is Samardzija as good as Sanchez?
Samardzija’s last two years actually look like Matt Garza’s two full years on the Cubs. Both amounted for just a shade under 6 wins in WAR, and Garza would have been higher had he not been hurt for the last two months of his second year. And Samardzija hasn’t put up anything close to Garza’s dominating 2011. Garza only got 4 years and $50 million from Milwaukee. Obviously, health concerns played a part in that. But doesn’t every pitcher have some sort of health concern?
Whatever formula you come up with, Shark wants to be paid near $20 million when he’s 35. And that’s just hard to justify on any level. Tim Hudson is real good after that age, but he’s making $9 million this year. And he’s an anomaly. Even Cliff Lee has declined a very little at 35, and he doesn’t have the power repertoire that doesn’t age well like Shark does.
The problem is that the rumors of what’s coming back aren’t setting Cubs fans’ hearts alight. Marcus Stroman from Toronto is the name you hear in their offers, but he basically projects to be nothing more than a 2-3. Kyle Crick is the newest name, this from the Giants, but he’s currently walking six hitters per nine innings in Double-A (granted, he’s 21). Eddie Butler from Colorado was another, but he doesn’t strike anyone out and looks kind of like another Kyle Hendricks. And the Rockies sinking out of the West probably puts paid to that anyway.
A bidding war for Shark will develop, and that will drive the price up. But if the Cubs don’t get a potential high-end #2 or future ace in return, then what’s the point here? Shark has another year on his deal, and the rumor is the Cubs would try and entice him back as a free agent in 2015.
Here’s the other thing that gets me. The National League is still far behind the American. With Rizzo and Castro being joined by Bryant and Baez next year, and with all the angry coming out of the Cubs pen (probably joined by Arodys Vinzcaino next year, and even if one of Grimm or Ramirez moves into the rotation there’s still Blake Parker to take innings), is it so far of a stretch to think the Cubs couldn’t be competitive in 2015? Not a favorite, but certainly they could whisper about a wild card spot?
Theo says they don’t want to move backwards any more. This upcoming Samardzija trade will prove it. If he goes, I just feel like I’d better see someone I can envision starting Game 1 of the World Series coming back.