Cubs Are Set Up Perfectly to Grab Huge Jeff Samardzija Trade Bounty

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Cubs Are Set Up Perfectly to Grab Huge Jeff Samardzija Trade Bounty
USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs don't have to trade Jeff Samardzija this summer. He's not a free agent until after 2015. And as a non-penniless organization, the Cubs still have a shot at extending him.

But as CBS Sports' Jon Heyman and many others have already opined, the Cubs should trade Samardzija this summer. And if they do, be warned:

The package they get in return could be big enough to shake the earth.

The recipe for a perfect trade situation is simple. If you have a highly desirable player, you're good. If you have some desperate suitors, you're better. If said suitors are lacking in better options, you're freakin' golden.

And right now, it looks like the Cubs will be able to check all three of these boxes once they decide to make their 29-year-old right-hander available.

 

Thing 1: Samardzija Is Pretty Good These Days

The fact that Samardzija is through 10 starts without a win suggests otherwise. But this being the year 2014, we know that Samardzija's winless record is merely an amusing oddity next to his other numbers. 

Via FanGraphs, some of those are:

Jeff Samardzija's 2014 Season
Split GS IP K/9 BB/9 ERA
2012-2013 61 388.1 9.13 3.11 4.10
2014 10 68.0 7.15 2.78 1.46

FanGraphs

Among qualified starters, Samardzija entered Thursday's action as the MLB leader in ERA. By that measure, he's the best pitcher baseball has.

He's not actually that good, mind you. As I recently noted, the fancy-pants metrics are less sold on Samardzija. That's largely owed to how much his strikeout rate has tumbled, which could be a deal-breaker for some front offices. So could how, according to FanGraphs, he's also losing velocity.

Other front offices, however, will look beyond what Samardzija has become worse at and choose to focus on things he's gotten better at. 

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Take Samardzija's improved walk rate, for example. For a guy with a history of iffy control, it's a welcome sight.

And Samardzija's control really has improved, a point we can demonstrate by using FanGraphs to look at how often he's finding the strike zone (Zone%) and BaseballSavant.com to look at how often he's pounding the bottom of the zone (I'll call it B-Zone%):

Jeff Samardzija's Much-Improved Control
Year Zone% B-Zone%
2012 43.6 12.54
2013 44.6 12.99
2014 51.1 14.55

FanGraphs and BaseballSavant.com

Talk about an ideal progression. Samardzija improved a bit in his second year as a starter in 2013, and he's gotten a lot better in his third year as a starter this season. 

Improved control isn't the only thing Samardzija has going for him. He also has a career-high ground-ball rate of 51.6 percent. We can assume that the extra-low pitches have something to do with that, but Brooks Baseball can show that Samardzija is also placing more faith than ever in his sinker.

If a pitcher is going to be less overpowering, responding by becoming a better control artist and a ground-ball machine is the way to go. Samardzija has done just that, turning himself into a quality pitcher and, in turn, an attractive trade chip.

And on that note, we go to Thing 2.

 

Thing 2: The Market for Samardzija Could Feature Some Big-Name Buyers

The New York Yankees are at the top of Jon Heyman's list of potential suitors for Samardzija, and rightfully so. Winning is a perpetual must for them, and pitching has become a big need with Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda all injured.

And for what it's worth, it sounds like Samardzija might have a bit of a Yankees fan in him.

"There's a certain method to their madness with the way they pick and the guys they decide to put in pinstripes," he told Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. He added: "They're professionals. In this game, that's what you need are guys who come out every day and do their jobs."

Then there are the Boston Red Sox, who have gotten little consistency out of starting pitchers not named Jon Lester during their 20-25 start. A bonus is that the Red Sox have a deep farm system that should still look familiar to Cubs boss Theo Epstein.

USA TODAY Sports

And then there are the Texas Rangers. With the injury bug having bitten Derek Holland, Martin Perez and Matt Harrison, the Rangers need Samardzija even more than they needed Ryan Dempster in 2012 or Matt Garza in 2013. Maybe they'll do business with the Cubs again.

We also can't rule out the Los Angeles Dodgers. They're looking up at the San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies, and have certainly shown a willingness to make big-ticket upgrades as needed. Joining Samardzija with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu would be like them.

The Toronto Blue Jays are another possibility. The Rockies might be too. Maybe the Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners could also be interested. Between these clubs and the aforementioned big-money clubs, the Cubs might be able to hold a bidding war for the ages.

Oh, and one more thing...

 

Thing 3: It's Looking Like Samardzija Could Be the Best Available Option

At the start of the season, it was easy to point to Samardzija as a potential trade candidate. But you could also point to two pitchers with superior track records: David Price and Cliff Lee.

Sure enough, the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies are both below .500 and looking like potential sellers. That takes care of that part.

One problem, though: While Samardzija has seen his trade stock escalate, Price and Lee have seen theirs head in the other direction.

Through 10 starts, Price has an un-ace-like 4.28 ERA. And while the metrics over at FanGraphs will tell you he's pitched better than that, it's concerning that Price hasn't made like Samardzija and responded to his own velocity loss by becoming more of a ground-ball pitcher. That's asking for trouble.

Brian Blanco/Getty Images

As for Lee, he's having another stupendous season with a 3.18 ERA and the metrics to match it. But he's also on the disabled list with an elbow injury. That's not encouraging in a day and age when elbows are dropping like flies, and it doesn't help matters that the 35-year-old Lee is no spring chicken.

So do the Cubs have a highly desirable trade chip? Yes, they do.

Are there pitching-needy teams out there that would be willing to deal? Yes to that too.

Are said teams going to have better options? Maybe not, no.

The Cubs don't have to trade Samardzija today. Or tomorrow. Or the day after tomorrow.

But the way things are shaping up, they'll be nuts if they don't trade him at some point this summer.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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