As Levine writes, the AL East is a division up for grabs and were the Orioles to make a big move long before the July 31st trade deadline, the team could pull ahead in the division race.
And while the idea of having a pitcher such as Samardzija in the O's rotation is an exciting one, the O's need to avoid turning that idea into a reality.
The Cubs are a rebuilding ballclub. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein will be looking to acquire a boatload of young talent in any trade involving his team's ace.
Parting with a boatload of young talent isn't something that the Orioles can afford to do. And it certainly isn't something they can afford to do in order to acquire a starting pitcher that isn't a true ace.
Samardzija is a fine pitcher. The 29-year-old right-hander is off to a phenomenal start in 2014, pitching to a 2.54 ERA in 78 innings for the Cubbies. Any team would be fortunate to have him in their rotation.
However, as I mentioned above, Epstein will certainly be aiming to get as big a return as possible for Samardzija. He'll be asking the Orioles for any one of their top starting pitcher prospects: Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Hunter Harvey, Eduardo Rodriguez and Mike Wright. In fact, he may demand that the team part with two of those young pitchers in order to gain a year and a half of Samardzija, plus one or two other young minor league prospects.
Samardzija will become a free agent at the end of the 2015 season, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he wanted to test the open market. Mortgaging the future of the franchise for a year and a half of a pitcher who has never been a true ace outside of the first two months of the 2014 season just doesn't make much sense.
Should the O's trade for Jeff Samardzija?
With a career ERA of 3.99, Samardzija is in his third season as a starting pitcher after having spent his first four years in the bigs as a reliever. He posted a 3.81 ERA in 174.2 innings in 2012, and a 4.34 ERA in 213.2 innings last season. Solid numbers, no doubt, but hardly worthy of "ace" consideration. His numbers don't appear all that intimidating in comparison with David Price, Mark Buehrle, Jon Lester and Masahiro Tanaka.
And that's the thing: Why trade away your future for a guy who isn't even exactly what your team needs? Sure, the O's could use Samardzija. He'd be the best pitcher in their rotation right now, and he would certainly help the team. But he isn't the guy; seeing him on the lineup card wouldn't strike fear into the hearts of the opposition like any of the four pitchers listed in the paragraph above.
For the O's to trade away one or two of their top young pitchers as well as other minor league prospects, they'd need to be getting a true ace in return. For example, a pitcher such as Cliff Lee or Yu Darvish: Someone who is guaranteed to give your team innings and a legitimate chance to win every time out.
Add to it the fact that the team isn't going to make a selection in the upcoming draft later this week until the third round, and the thought that the O's need to keep their top minor leaguers is only reinforced.
The O's surrendered their first- and second-round picks when signing starter Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz, respectively, so the team will be without a draft pick until the third round. If the O's were to trade away some of their minor league prospects, the lack of top draft selections would make absorbing the loss of prospects all the more difficult.
The Birds need to do something if they want to make a serious run at the playoffs this season. Their rotation has struggled and the offense has yet to hit its stride. They're fighting to stay above .500, and though the whole division is relatively close, any one team has the potential to pull away from the others at any given time.
Moves need to be made to stay in the race. The team needs to improve. But it isn't worth giving up future success, year in and year out, for one-and-a-half seasons of a pitcher who could or could not be a staff leader.
Either the team needs to make small, complementary moves and save the farm while relying on the young players and veterans it has to come through, or they need to go all-in on a bona-fide ace and throw caution to the wind.
The latter comes with one condition: Please, go after a pitcher with an easier name.