Chicago Cubs: Should team consider Jeff Samardzija this winter?
By Jake Misener
After passing on the Chicago Cubs’ contract offer last season, could Jeff Samardzija be ready to come home after a disappointing year on the South Side?
To say the 2015 season hasn’t exactly been stellar for the White Sox right-hander would be a major understatement.
Samardzija, who will hit the open market for the first time this winter, headed into the campaign with hopes of raising his stock after joining the Sox in an offseason trade between the South Siders and the Oakland Athletics.
Instead of pushing his worth into the six-figure range, he’s taken more than a few steps backwards. The former fifth-round pick of the Cubs is battling to end the season with a sub-5.00 earned run average and currently leads the league in hits, home runs and runs allowed.
Needless to say, there’s some room for improvement.
After the Cubs flipped their workhorse to the A’s last July in exchange for a package of prospects headlined by Billy McKinney and Addison Russell, Samardzija pitched well for Oakland, tossing 110-plus innings of 3.14 ERA baseball, while posting an incredible 8.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
With that performance in-mind, the White Sox decided to trade for him to shore up a starting rotation that had long been anchored by left-handed ace Chris Sale, who has emerged as a perennial Cy Young candidate.
As they say, hindsight is 20-20 and looking back at this year, Samardzija clearly wasn’t the number two to Sale; those honors go to fellow lefty Jose Quintana, who has quietly put together a third-straight season of a low-3.00 ERA and around 200 innings pitched.
So what does this mean for the former Notre Dame football standout?
In the big picture, not as much as you may think.
His (potential) final two starts with the White Sox will have no-doubt turned some heads, especially his start last week against the potent Detroit Tigers’ offense – in which he hurled a one-hitter.
Adding a piece like Samardzija could make the Cubs favorites in a loaded National League Central come 2016.
The stuff is clearly still there. That’s not even a discussion that’s being had in circles around the game. It’s clear that his make-up offers plenty to like for teams looking to add impact depth in their starting rotation this offseason.
The real question is: “What happened to make the wheels come off in 2015 and what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again?”
In steps the Chicago Cubs and pitching coach Chris Bosio.
Bosio already has a lengthy list of turnaround projects on his resume, including National League Cy Young contender Jake Arrieta, who leads the NL in wins this season. Working with Samardzija, who is said to have the same fiery determination as the Cubs’ ace, could be a recipe for success long-term.
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Sure, the righty turned down the Cubs’ $80 million offer last season, but what’s done and done. The Chicago front office tandem of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer didn’t get to where they are by letting business decisions become personal – if Samardzija will help the staff and the numbers make sense, you can bank on the Cubs being involved in talks.
Ah, yes. The numbers.
In all reality, I wouldn’t be shocked at all if Samardzija gets somewhere between $80-$100 million. Sure, he struggled this season with the Sox, but, once again, he racked up over 200 innings pitched, striking out 163 batters in the process.
But what really makes him valuable is his relatively light workload on his right arm. Samardzija broke onto the scene as a reliever with the Cubs and has been a full-time starting pitcher in professional baseball for just four years, giving him much fewer innings on his arm than other pitchers in their early-30s.
With Arrieta and Lester poised to sit atop the Chicago Cubs’ rotation for the foreseeable future, a pitcher like Jeff Samardzija, even as a mid-3.00 ERA, 200-inning arm, would address one of the team’s most dire needs: depth in a staff that seems to have more questions than answers in the back-end.