Amidst the rumors that the Cubs are listening on offers for Jeff Samardzija that flickered on the periphery of my twitter feed today were a thousand reactions to them from Cubs fans. Folks, rightly so, don’t want to see a young potential superstar with outstanding hair get shipped off for a bunch of prospects who presumably have boring hair and don’t at all resemble pirates. And if the Cubs can’t convince a team to part with a guy with the potential for an 80 grade mane, it’s at least reasonable that they try to get a crapton of baseball value in return.
But just how much is a crapton? Well, in my best imitation of mb21/dmick89 over at ObstructedView, I’m going to try and discern just how much the Cubs could expect in return for a flamethrowing young arm like Jeff Samardzija. (Seriously, I first saw these breakdowns on their site and all credit should go to them for the idea)
First, to set our baselines:
- Assume that the value of a win is around $5.5 million. Will provide source if requested, but this is fairly standard.
- Assume that inflation of both the value of the win and the value of the dollar is not significant enough to impact this valuation in the next 3 years.
- Assume that Victor Wang’s research is still relevant.
- Samardzija’s arbitration contracts increase roughly like all arb cases increased in 2012.
Jeff Samardzija has thrown 311 innings of about 3.60 FIP ball since becoming a starter, a track record that would peg him firmly as a #3 starter. The value of a good #3 with gorgeous flowing locks is quite high, especially one as cheap as Samardzija, who is only owed roughly $1 million for the remainder of 2013. Samardzija is projected by ZiPS to be worth about 3.2 Wins Above Replacement this season (1.1 WAR remaining), and at 28 should be worth another half a win next season before plateauing around 3.7-4.0 WAR at age 30. Under these conditions, we can get a rough estimate of what Jeff Samardzija is worth in surplus value over the next few seasons:
$36 million in surplus value is an enormous amount. For example, Matt Garza was pegged at about $1.4 million for the rest of 2013 according to dmick89 at ObstructedView. If the Cubs were able to get roughly that projected value in return for Jeff Samardzija, they could expect to get a top 10 hitting prospect, or a top 10 pitching prospect packaged with a slightly lesser pitching prospect and some upside guys. I don’t know if a team would ever offer such a package for Samardzija, but even if they did, I don’t know if I would be happy with that return.
As you know, there is plenty of reason to believe that Jeff Samardzija could be a much better pitcher than he already is. He pumps mid 90s gas with occasionally spectacular secondaries, and is just starting to get the hang of the whole starting pitcher thing. He’s athletic and large, two great features that help a pitcher log innings. And if you take out his disastrous June last season when he experimented with a curveball, Samardzija actually pitched to a 2.80 ERA last season in 151 innings. Altogether, Shark is a guy you could reasonably expect to break out next season.
And if the Cubs think he could break out, why trade him for anything less than that value? Below are two surplus value tables for Jeff Samardzija, the first of which is what his surplus value is if you think he is a 4+ win true talent pitcher right now. The second is what his value would be at the 2014 trade deadline if he actualized into that kind of pitcher later this season:
(I have adjusted the arbitration values based on what a better pitcher would likely fetch)
1) 4 Win Pitcher
If the Cubs view Jeff Samardzija as a 4 win pitcher right now, you can see that the type of deal they’d be looking for is immense. If they were talking with the Pirates, they’d be looking at Polanco or Hanson (Top 26-50 Hitters), Taillon (a top 10 pitcher), and a Glasnow type (a top 76-100 pitcher). That would be a tremendous haul and I cannot imagine it ever being offered, but it illustrates just how valuable Jeff Samardzija is.
2) 2014 Trade Deadline as a 4.5 Win Pitcher
And if the Cubs did wait until the 2014 trade deadline to deal Samardzija in the hopes Samardzija develops into a near-ace, they would not be forfeiting too much in the process. At $26.2 million in surplus value, the Cubs could still reasonably demand a top-10 pitching prospect and another top-100 prospect. And, if he were able to establish himself as a 4.5+ Win pitcher, the Cubs could get even more.
Recent history has shown that top of the rotation pitchers fetch even more than their projected value in trade. One season of James Shields fetched a top-10 hitting prospect and a top-50 pitching prospect ($50 million in projected value). R.A. Dickey returned (at the time) a top-11-25 hitter and a top-25 pitching prospect ($41 million). If Samardzija were viewed as an innings-eating #2 by the next trade deadline, the return could dwarf even what they are rumored to be pursuing right now, with the added value of Samardzija possibly contributing to a surprise 2014 contender.
So what is Jeff Samardzija worth? At present, he’s probably worth a top-10 prospects and a few other really good pieces, which is what the rumors suggest they’re pursuing. But I feel there is a legitimate chance that Samardzija could turn into an even better pitcher and fetch an absurd package a year from now*. If I were Cubs management (and I’m not for good reason), I would need to be overwhelmed to move him. I’d need to get a return that approached the value proposed in the second table above, a franchise-altering move. And ultimately, I highly doubt the Cubs are approached with such a deal.*Is there risk in that approach? Sure, but even if Shark is just a solid 3-4 win pitcher, the Cubs could still expect a solid return. There’s also the possibility that a lesser Samardzija is also much easier to lock-down long term.