What Should Jeff Samardzija Be Worth on the Winter Trade Market?

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistNovember 5, 2013

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 24:  Jeff Samardzija #29 of the Chicago Cubs delivers a pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on July 24, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Norm Hall/Getty Images

Just a few days into the MLB offseason, the rumor mill is already in full swing, and one of the most interesting names that has been brought up so far is Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija.

Originally viewed as a possible extension candidate heading into the 2013 season, Samardzija took a step back, and with an extension now unlikely, the 28-year-old could be moved this offseason.

According to Buster Olney of ESPN, the Diamondbacks and Cubs could pick up trade talks that began at the July deadline but did not produce any action at that point.

The Cubs drafted Samardzija in the fifth round of the 2006 draft and signed him to a five-year, $10 million deal with a $2.5 million signing bonus in order to assure he would not jump ship and pursue a career in the NFL after a prodigious career as a wide receiver at Notre Dame.

He's had an up-and-down big league career to this point, but the 28-year-old appeared to have turned a corner in 2012, as he was handed a rotation spot out of spring training for the first time in his career and quickly became the Cubs best starter.

Jeff Samardzija's 2012 Stats
GSW-LERAERA+FIPWHIPBAABBKIP
289-133.811073.551.219.24056180174.2
FanGraphs

Entering what should have been the prime of his career in 2013, the hope was that he could take another step forward and establish himself as a legitimate staff ace and a cornerstone of the Cubs' rebuilding efforts. That was not the case, though, as he instead took a step back across the board.

Jeff Samardzija's 2013 Stats
GSW-LERAERA+FIPWHIPBAABBKIP
338-134.34913.771.348.25578214213.2
FanGraphs

That was enough of a decline for a Cubs team that is incredibly thin on starting pitching up and down the organization to at least consider moving Samardzija.

Samardzija has two years of team control left and is still projected to be a bargain in arbitration at $4.9 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors, so he won't come cheap to anyone trying to acquire him.

What can the Cubs realistically expect to get in return, though? Let's first take a look at some recent blockbuster trades for starting pitchers.

Blockbuster Pitching Trades Since 2011
TradeReturn (Prospect Rank)
1/11: Matt Garza to Chicago (NL)SP Chris Archer (1), SS Hak-Ju Lee (4), OF Brandon Guyer (10), C Robinson Chirinos (16), OF Sam Fuld
7/11: Ubaldo Jimenez to ClevelandSP Alex White (2), SP Drew Pomeranz (4), SP Joe Gardner (9), C Matt McBride
12/11: Mat Latos to Cincinnati1B Yonder Alonso (3), C Yasmani Grandal (4), RP Brad Boxberger (10), SP Edinson Volquez
12/11: Trevor Cahill to ArizonaSP Jarrod Parker (4), OF Collin Cowgill (11), RP Ryan Cook (18)
12/11: Gio Gonzalez to WashingtonSP Brad Peacock (3), SP A.J. Cole (4), C Derek Norris (9), SP Tommy Milone (13)
7/12: Zack Greinke to Los Angeles (AL)SS Jean Segura (2), SP Johnny Hellweg (4), SP Ariel Pena (9)
12/12: James Shields to Kansas CityRF Wil Myers (1), SP Jake Odorizzi (5), SP Mike Montgomery (15), 3B Patrick Leonard (26)
12/12: R.A. Dickey to TorontoC Travis d'Arnaud (1), SP Noah Syndergaard (3), OF Wuilmer Becerra (25), C John Buck
7/13: Matt Garza to Texas3B Mike Olt (2), SP Justin Grimm (5), SP C.J. Edward (14), SP Neil Ramirez (23)
Baseball America

To say Samardzija is a notch below the guys on that table would not be unfair, but in a relatively thin market for starting pitching and given his controllable years and reasonable salary, a similar return may not be out of the question.

For the sake of argument here, let's focus specifically on the team currently linked to him—the Diamondbacks.

Top young arms Tyler Skaggs and Archie Bradley are likely off the table, as is slugging third-base prospect Matt Davidson, but the rest of their farm system could be available. That includes an impressive crop of second-tier pitching prospects, all of whom would be of interest to a pitching-thin Cubs team.

Diamondbacks Pitching Prospects (Prospect Rank)
NameLevel2013 Stats
4. SP Braden Shipley (21)A-/A12 GS, 0-3, 4.99 ERA, 14 BB, 40 K, 39.2 IP
5. SP David Holmberg (22)AA26 GS, 5-8, 2.75 ERA, 50 BB, 116 K, 157.1 IP
6. SP Zeke Spruill (24)AA/AAA21 GS, 6-8, 3.49 ERA, 45 BB, 68 K, 123.2 IP
7. RP Jake Barrett (22)A+/AA52 G, 29 SV, 1.21 ERA, 12 BB, 59 K, 52 IP
8. SP Andrew Chafin (23)A+/AA27 GS, 13-8, 3.20 ERA, 55 BB, 119 K, 157.1 IP
MLB.com Prospect Watch

Considering none of those guys ranks among the team's top three prospects—in fact, none ranks among baseball's top 100 prospects, according to MLB.com Prospect Watch—it's conceivable that the Cubs could land two of the arms on that list.

The most attractive options for the North Siders may be Holmberg, given how close he is to major league ready, and Barrett as a potential closer of the present and future in a bullpen that is anything but sorted out long term.

That may not be enough for the Cubs to pull the trigger, but if the Diamondbacks were to throw in one of their unwanted starters who could step into Samardzija's rotation spot—like Brandon McCarthy, along with some of the $10.25 million he's owed—and another low-minors prospect with some upside, that could get a deal done.

This basic outline of a package applies to whatever team the Cubs may wind up negotiating with. A pair of top pitching prospects, a decent big league starter capable of taking Samardzija's spot and a low-level minor leaguer seems like a fair asking price for Samardzija at this point.

Whether the Cubs pull the trigger on a deal remains to be seen, but if they are not going to lock up Samardzija, moving the big right-hander now could be in the best interest of the team's rebuilding efforts.