By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) With trade rumors swirling and scouts descending upon the games he starts, it seems as if almost every team in Major League Baseball is interested in Jeff Samardzija these days.
So, it’s nice to reportedly see the Cubs interested in him, as well. And not just as a trading chip, but as a long-term piece of their puzzle.
Late Monday night, Chicago Sun-Times beat writer Gordon Wittenmyer reported that the Cubs have resumed talks with their top pitcher about a multi-year extension.
The offer is rumored to be for the same five years that the Cubs and Samardzija had previously discussed, but for more cash than the $60 million-$65 million that’s said to have been on the table. To keep Samardzija, it likely will take something close to the $17.5 million annual value in the the six-year contract that Cincinnati signed Homer Bailey to during the spring, according to Wittenmyer.
Over five years, that would equate to an $87.5 million deal to keep Samardzija in Chicago. Others may disagree, but to me, that price tag sounds reasonable, even if Samardzija ultimately winds up as a No. 2 starter for the Cubs. However, since the news of potential contract negotiations broke, I’ve also had more than one person say to me that such a pricey extension for a pitcher Samardzija’s age – he turns 30 in January – is too much.
But, really, it isn’t.
Because while Samardzija may be turning 30 soon, his arm isn’t nearly that old – not in terms of pitching age, at least. Rather, thanks to his years spent focusing on college football and those working as a MLB reliever – he’s still started only 80 games in his career, 75 of those during the past three years – Samardzija likely has far more bullets left in his arm than most pitchers his age.
Consider this: At the age of 29 and prior to Tuesday night’s start, Samardzija has pitched only 649 innings in six-plus seasons. By comparison, Bailey, who turned 28 on May 3, has already thrown 937 2/3 innings over seven-plus years. As another example, 30-year-old Matt Garza – whom the Cubs chose to trade last season rather than extend, in part because of his age – already has pitched 1,268 2/3 innings over eight-plus seasons.
When you look at Samardzija’s overall numbers, they don’t pop out at you, although his career ERA (3.99) and strikeouts-per-nine-innings average (8.6) are superior the Bailey’s respective numbers of 4.29 and 7.5. His lackluster 31-41 career record also has more to do with the poor Cubs teams over that past few years than with Samardzija himself – especially his 2-6 mark this season as he’s compiled a 2.77 ERA, the best in his career as a starter.
And based on his relative lack of innings pitched, you could even argue that as he nears his 30th birthday, Samardzija is just now coming into his own as a pitcher and that his best seasons are still ahead of him.
For the past few years, I haven’t felt as if Samardzija is a true ace-caliber pitcher, and I understand why the Cubs have been open to trading him if they can get a return haul that includes sure-fire young pitching (is that an oxymoron?). In today’s injury-laden landscape, there’s no certainty that Samardzija a long-term ace, but he’s certainly pitched like one this season and has changed my perception of his talents.
Beyond all that, because the Cubs remain so pitching-poor — they lack any clear-cut ace-caliber pitchers in their minor league system or elsewhere on the big league roster — I believe that Samardzija is very much an asset worth keeping.
After all, at some point the Cubs have to actually start building a house rather than simply flipping them every summer. And if ever the Cubs are to construct a true championship team, let alone a true championship franchise, they’re going to have to spend on the building materials.
Samardzija is worth spending on, based on his production, leadership and durability as well as an arm that’s younger than his age might indicate.
So if the price is right, I say let’s make a deal and actually hang on to a guy that’s good. The Cubs have played Wheel of Fortune with their pitching staff long enough.