Is Samardzija the Cubs’ ace of the future?


Aug 8, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher

Jeff Samardzija

(29) delivers to the plate during the third inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

For five innings on Saturday, Cubs’ right-hander Jeff Samardzija looked like an ace.

Then, he imploded following a Junior Lake miscue, and the rest, as they say, is history.

On the season, the 28-year old Samardzija is now 8-11 with a 4.13 ERA in 28 starts- matching his total from the 2012 campaign. This year marks just the second season since Samardzija’s conversion to a starter – something Chicago hopes will pay long-term dividends.

The question, however, remains – is the former college football standout ace material?

"“Any time you get the early runs, you can be aggressive and attack the zone,” Samardzija said after Saturday’s start. “It allowed me to cruise through the middle innings. I obviously had the hiccup in the sixth.”"

Philadelphia tallied four runs in the sixth, followed swiftly by the game-tying run in the seventh. Samardzija’s final line showed 6 2/3 innings in which he allowed five earned runs on eight hits while walking two and striking out six.

Saturday’s outing was the right-hander’s first major struggles in several starts, as he was coming off a set of back-to-back outings in which he completely and utterly dominated – allowing just three earned runs in 17 innings of work.

Cubs management have sought a long-term contract extension with Samardzija on multiple occasions, but have been wholly unsuccessful. He is eligible for arbitration after this season, and will likely see a significant raise from his current salary, which sits at $2.64 million annually.

Reports from earlier this year stated that Theo Epstein put together an offer to Samardzija “well above” the deal that Rangers’ lefty Derek Holland signed that was worth $30 million over five years. No progress was made in discussions concerning the offer.

“He really wants to be here, and we really want to keep him, so I’m not worried about it,” Epstein said at the time.

Those who are questioning whether or not Samardzija is worth a long-term extension must be able to look past a win-loss record scarred by a tepid Chicago offense that is sporadic, at best.

Last season, he averaged 3.21 strikeouts per walk – one of only a handful of pitchers to achieve such accolades – but has seen that number decline in 2013, falling to 2.69 punch outs per walk.

The right-hander has seen his WHIP,H/9 and BB/9 all rise this season, but across the board, he has been able to maintain his presence on the mound. In Saturday’s loss, the biggest question that came to mind what whether or not he could maintain focus after defensive lapses. On a similar note, he ranks near the top of National League pitchers in terms of errors.

Samardzija has already reached a career-high in innings pitched, breaking the 180 innings pitched mark for the first time in his young career, but as mentioned, he has been stellar of late – including the majority of yesterday’s start against the Phillies.

Samardzija is well-worth the deal offered him by the Chicago front office. Unless he takes the next step forward, he won’t average much more than five to seven million per year on any deal. Should he emerge as an arm among the game’s best, then Epstein and Company will have to open the wallets, or risk losing a prime pitcher.