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Nelson Cruz Signing Would Allow Rangers to Consider Trade for Jeff Samardzija

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Nelson Cruz Signing Would Allow Rangers to Consider Trade for Jeff Samardzija
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
SP Jeff Samardzija.

As Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports confirmed, there still is a possibility that the Rangers could sign Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal. Rosenthal added that signing Cruz would allow Texas to trade current projected DH Mitch Moreland, which will create a more balanced lineup.

Here's an idea: Jeff Samardzija of the Chicago Cubs.

He's available and has been commanding interest across the market, notably from the Toronto Blue Jays, as Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted: 

Texas could easily put together a deal for the former Notre Dame star that would be much cheaper than acquiring David Price.

No, Samardzija doesn't have the same kind of star power that Price has. But remember, despite my initial overreaction following the news that Derek Holland would be out till midseason with a knee injury, the Rangers don't need an ace level pitcher.

Really, they shouldn't be aiming for anybody higher than a No. 3 at best. With the Cubs, Samardzija was the No. 2 starter behind Travis Wood. In the American League, he'd fit in pretty well in a No. 3 or 4 spot. 

In the short term, trading for Samardzija makes a good amount of sense. It wouldn't be a perfect acquisition, but if the Rangers are unwilling to spend much more cash and want to acquire a quality starter for the next couple years, Samardzija is a logical option.

There have been no reports of the Rangers and Cubs discussing a trade for Samardzija, but it's worth discussing because he makes some sense for what Texas needs right now.

First and foremost, he has a suitable contract situation. This year is his first arbitration-eligible season. He will be a free agent after the 2015 season. Samardzija made $2.64 million in each of the last two seasons. His price for 2014 and 2015 will obviously increase, but it shouldn't do so at an exorbitant rate.

Over the next two seasons, he will much cheaper than Price, who is set to earn $14 million in 2014 and then be arbitration eligible. If he performs to his ability this season, he could earn more than $20 million in 2015 through arbitration. Samardzija may not cost even half of that total over his two years with Texas.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Samardzija won't bring along the financial baggage that Price will.

The Rangers could acquire Samardzjia and use him in a two-year window for a championship run. If they don't want to sign him to an extension after the 2015 season, they could simply slap a qualifying offer on him and likely capitalize with a first-round pick. Samardzija will be 30 at the end of next season, but some team will sign him.

Secondly, he eats innings, which is something Texas has to be looking for right now with any potential pitching acquisition. In 2013 with the Cubs, Samardzija made 33 starts and threw 213.2 innings. The previous year, he started 28 games. So he'll take the ball every five days.

He is definitely a strikeout pitcher, having registered 394 punch-outs in 388.1 innings over the last two seasons. High strikeout guys play well everywhere, but especially in Arlington.

His stuff is excellent and while he may not be quite as dominant in the AL, he shouldn't have much trouble adjusting leagues with those strikeout numbers. 

Samardzija is a pest to both sides of the plate. Both righties and lefties have only hit .246 off him lifetime. A heavy inning starter being that sharp to both sides of the plate is a rare attribute.

Here are the highlights from his 2013 Opening Day win against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Take notice of his impressive stuff.

This should make him even more attractive to the Rangers, who play in a division with several potent lefty hitters—Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton, Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and more.

Now for the concerns. 

Samardzija does give up hits. He allowed 210 in his 213.2 innings last season. But more often than not, runs against him aren't scored with a base hit. Again, he does a nice job of containing both righty and lefty hitters and is a strikeout pitcher.

His ERA ballooned a bit in 2013 because of the long ball. Samardzjia gives up his fair share of homers. He surrendered 25 last year and 20 in 2012. This accounts for a majority of his runs against.

Ignore the 17-26 record over the last two seasons. That is a direct result of a poor and inconsistent offense behind him. With the Ranger bats supporting him, he could likely repeat his 2012 and 2013 performances over the next two seasons and flip that record. 

His control could be better, but is passable. Really in the American League, any strikeout-to-walk ratio higher than 2.50 is pretty good. Samardzija's K/BB ratio was 2.74 last season and 3.21 in 2012. 

What would the Rangers have to give up to acquire him?

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Losing Mitch Moreland isn't necessarily ideal, but Nelson Cruz, if signed, would like push him out.

I couldn't tell you for sure, but how about a package of Mitch Moreland, Cody Buckel and Luis Sardinas for Samardzija?

If the Rangers signed Cruz, Moreland becomes expendable. It's fair to assume that he could become more expensive than he is right now over the next two years of arbitration. Between those two years, he may add up to be more than Cruz for one year. 

The Cubs could use him as the primary DH in AL parks. Or they could give him a shot in the outfield. He has the ability to be a more versatile player than he's been allowed to show with the Rangers.

Buckel, in my opinion, is the most expendable pitching prospect Texas has in its system. So to sweeten the deal, the Rangers could throw in Sardinas. Chicago doesn't have a lot of depth at second base behind Darwin Barney, but they have a long line of talented shortstop prospects.

Perhaps the Cubs could transform Sardinas into a second baseman. I believe he could eventually make that transition, much like Jurickson Profar is starting to.  

Again, none of this happens if Cruz doesn't sign with Texas. As I've said before, I'd welcome him back but moving Moreland and getting a decent return could be tricky. If Cruz does sign with the Rangers, Jon Daniels might have to get creative and construct a larger package for a larger return to fill a need. 

In keeping with the idea that Daniels should explore all avenues to improve his club this offseason, this is a situation he should be keeping his eye on.

 

*All stats and contract information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

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