Jeff Samardzija is undoubtedly the Chicago Cubs ace. He has been their opening day starter for the past two seasons and in 2014 he is currently posting a league best 1.68 ERA. With a very impressive ERA and 64 strikeouts in 11 starts, one would think that Samardzija would be among the league leader in wins, but the young right-hander has only managed to win one start this season.
It’s not as if Samardzija is giving up critical runs at turning points in the game, but rather he is not getting the run support he needs to get the W. In his first ten starts before getting a win on Memorial Day, the Cubs were only giving Samardzija 2.4 runs per game. Some Cubs faithful might argue that their record does not support their play on the field, but the fact is Chicago has made it publically known they are still re-building their farm system and Samardzija, who is having his best season in the majors, is not getting any younger. It’s starting to look as if the Cubs will be shopping their ace before the trade deadline in July, but what can the team expect to get in return and where will Samardzjia land?
The best aspect of Samardzija’s trade value has to be his age and durability. At 29-years old he is just now entering his prime and teams are beginning to pay attention to what the Cubs saw when he debuted on the North Side in 2008. He has also averaged seven innings in each of his outings this season and since becoming a full-time starter in 2012, Samardzija has averaged 193.2 innings in 30 starts per season. Any team competing for a playoff berth this season would greatly boost their starting rotation with Samardzija’s arm, but the question for the Cubs if it gets to that point is what team would bring the most trade value back for their top pitcher.
The American League East has five legitimate teams that could make the playoffs this season. Though the division has been dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox for the better part of the past decade, Tampa Bay has been able to find success during that stretch and both the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles have made significant strides in the past few years. The Orioles seem poised to be able to make a legitimate run in the playoffs this season, especially if they are able to bring Samardzija over from Chicago.
A report from CBS Sports writer Bruce Levine states that both the Cubs and Orioles are interested in making a deal happen before the July 31st trade deadline. In return for the right-handed pitcher, the Cubs would be expected to receive right-handed pitchers Kevin Gausman and Hunter Harvey along with left-handed pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. It has also been reported that the Cubs are interested in one of the top prospects in the Orioles organization, Dylan Bundy. Three young pitching prospects, or potentially four, would greatly boost a Chicago minor league system that already seems to have their position players ready to come up to the majors in the next two seasons.
Toronto Blue Jays
One of the biggest surprise teams in the first third of the 2014 baseball season has been the Toronto Blue Jays, especially after the teams disappointing season last year. After having the biggest 2013 off-season by bringing in pitchers Mark Buehrle and R.A Dicky along with All-Star Jose Reyes, the team finished last in the division. Now they are currently at the top on the AL East and with Buehrle currently leading the league in wins, the Blue Jays would be smart to capitalize on Samardzija’s services.
When asked about the Blue Jays potential to make a serious run this season, an American League executive had the following to say:
“They are if they trade for (Jeff) Samardzija, And I’ve got to believe they’ll go hard for him. They went all in last year because they thought the division was there to be taken. Well, now it is, and they’ve put themselves in position, but they probably need another front-line starter. Why wouldn’t they do it?”
The Blue Jays do have a promising young prospect in 23-year old Drew Hutchinson, who has been solid in his 11 starts during his 2014 rookie campaign. However, I would have to imagine that the Cubs would be looking for more in return and that might mean targeting the Jays top pitching prospect, Aaron Sanchez. After giving up Noah Synergaard and Travis d’Arnaud in the trade for Dickey and Reyes last season, Toronto might be less inclined to completely dismantle their minor league system in order to win now.
Los Angeles Dodgers
And finally we have arrived at the Dodgers, who were the talk of the league entering the season. Though they currently sit in the middle of the National League West standings, the team seems to be getting ready to make a run at the Giants and the surprising Colorado Rockies. With Clayton Kershaw back from his short hiatus, the team is starting to put it all together with the team’s starting rotation currently ranking eight in ERA and second in strikeouts.
A run at Samardzija might be a long shot for the Dodgers right now, but he could absolutely put them over the hump and the team has a number of young prospects to trade in return. The name Joc Pederson has been thrown around a lot this season as the Dodgers top outfielder does not seem to have a spot at the major league level anytime soon, especially with the emergence of Yasiel Puig. But the Cubs have the own prospects who are expected to fill the outfield in the next two seasons including Albert Alomora and Jorge Soler. The team is likely to want pitching in return.
The Dodgers would be able to offer left-handed pitcher Julio Urias or Chris Reed along with right-handers Zach Lee and Chris Anderson. It is unlikely the Cubs would be able to bring in more than two of these top prospects, but it gives both organizations room for negotiations. The Dodgers already have five proven starters in their rotation, so unless they experience some injuries in the next month it does not seem likely that the Cubs would be willing to take on Dan Haren or an aging Josh Beckett.
Other teams that might be in the Samardzija sweepstakes could be the Red Sox, Rockies, Giants, or even the Yankees, who might be making one last serious run in Derek Jeters final season. Whichever team is able to land Samardzija, or assuming the Cubs are able to work out a deal, is going to get one of the better young arms in the game who is now entering his prime. Though it is up to the Cubs to decide where Samardzija finishes the season, it will ultimately be his decision where he continues his career. Samardzija signed an arbitration deal with the Cubs this off-season and will, therefore, be a free agent after 2014. This aspect could certainly be appealing for a team looking to lock-up the right-hander for years to come. Until a trade is finalized it will be up to “the Shark” to either pitch his way out of Chicago or pitch his way to a much deserved lucrative, multi-year contract.