The winter meetings have come and gone, and the Atlanta Braves failed to make a trade or sign a free agent.
However, according to David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Braves are still pushing hard to acquire a starting pitcher, with Jeff Samardzija of the Chicago Cubs believed to be at the top of the list:
The Braves are optimistic about re-signing free agent reliever Eric O’Flaherty, and they are pushing hard to acquire a starting pitcher and could be leading suitors for Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija if Chicago decides to trade the hard-throwing right-hander.
While pitchers like David Price and Chris Sale are the prize trade acquisitions, O'Brien noted how past experiences will stop the Braves from trading for top starters:
And after being burned in the past by trading multiple top prospects for a year or two of a player they believed could get them over the hump in the playoffs, the Braves have in recent years refused to trade their premium prospects in such deals.
That’s the case again this year. It’s why they might not make any offer for Tampa Bay’s David Price or the White Sox’s Chris Sale, left-handed aces who aren’t expected to be dealt for anything less than a bevy of premium prospects and young players.
But Samardzija isn't a player that would cost the Braves a bevy of prospects, which is why they're interested in him. But what makes the right-hander someone the Braves would want at the top of their rotation?
What Samardzija Brings to the Table
The career record isn't there for Samardzija as he is 29-35. But he's been a full-time starter the last two years and has had good results.
Keep in mind he was on the Cubs, a team that won a combined 127 games over the last two seasons. Despite that, his numbers were still good:
With more strikeouts came more walks and less quality starts. But he's a strikeout pitcher, nonetheless, something the Braves need in the rotation.
Why the Braves Need Samardzija
Mike Minor and Julio Teheran are strikeout pitchers, but after that, there aren't any true strikeout pitchers in the rotation.
There's no question Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood can bring a lot to the table. But none of the trio is thought of as a fireballer like Samardzija.
Some people will question if Samardzija is the ace-type pitcher the Cubs are making him out to be. But he doesn't have to be the ace of the staff. Minor and Teheran have shown they can be at the top of the rotation, which will allow Samardzija to settle in and not have to worry about being the leader of the rotation.
Consistency is what the Braves need and is something they can't be too sure about when it comes to Beachy and his elbow issues. Wood is a wild card in the whole Braves' situation. He's an immense talent, but the Braves could find that they need him more in the bullpen than in the rotation.
Let's also not forget that Samardzija is under team control for another two years and should come at a relatively cheap price in arbitration.
So, what would be the perfect package for Samardzija?
Trade Package No. 1
For starters, Lucas Sims isn't going anywhere. So, he won't be involved in any trade scenario.
What the Cubs need is starting pitching and help at second base. Lo and behold, that's what the Braves have a lot of.
Now, the Cubs won't take on much of Dan Uggla's salary, but he is a player that could definitely be a part of the deal. Don't laugh, just look at the comparisons:
When you put the numbers next to each other, it's plain as day that Uggla would be a huge upgrade at second, despite the low average. He hits home runs, and he walks a good amount.
But Uggla isn't the only one that would go in this package. The Cubs would need a young starting pitcher (or two) from the Braves' minor league system to complete the deal. For this deal, I'll pick left-hander Sean Gilmartin and left-handed relief pitcher Ian Thomas.
The fact that both are lefties is a plus for the Cubs. It's something you can never have too much of in the big leagues.
Gilmartin is going to be blocked from being a starter, so a place where he isn't blocked would be the best thing for him. Add in Thomas, who can be a good arm out of the bullpen, and it's a win-win situation for both teams.
Trade Package No. 2
If that last trade package is a no-go, mainly if you believe Uggla wouldn't be a part of a potential deal, then here's another one.
This package is pitching-heavy as that's what the Cubs have to look at moving forward.
Gilmartin is included in this deal as well, mainly because he's a legit talent, but his struggles have cost him a chance at a rotation spot. He's succeeded in the lower levels of the minor leagues, but when it's come to Double-A and Triple-A, he's struggled.
He was 3-8 with a 5.74 ERA at Triple-A last year and 5-8 with a 3.54 ERA in Double-A in 2012. But there's a reason the Braves picked him in the first round of the 2011 draft, which is why he's the No. 4-ranked prospect in the organization, according to MLB.com.
Double-A right-hander Aaron Northcraft is another good talent. He went 8-8 with a 3.42 ERA in Double-A last year. His prospect page on MLB.com describes him like this
Everything has good life, from his sinking fastball to his changeup and even his fringy breaking stuff. Very competitive on the mound, he goes right after hitters and works quickly while generally throwing strikes.
Throw in another lower-level hitting prospect, and this deal would be complete.
Will the Braves make a trade for Jeff Samardzija this offseason?
The Cubs would get the pitching they need for the future, and the Braves would get a strikeout pitcher they needed.
Will It Happen?
This all hinges on if the Cubs are willing to trade Samardzija. Obviously, they'd love to sign him to an extension and keep him on the North Side for many years to come.
However, that may not be in the cards, and the Cubs have to get everything they can for him now.
By trading him this offseason, they'll be able to get more of a return than they would next year when he would have only one year left on his contract.
Once the dust settles and the Cubs see that Samardzija won't give them a hometown discount, nor make it easy to sign him, they'll find the best package and send him off.
And Braves' fans are hoping that it's the Braves who present the best offer.