Revisiting Jeff Samardzija’s Trade Value

In July, I wrote about what the Cubs might expect in return for starter Jeff Samardzija. The conclusion was that Samardzija, who had a 3.75 ERA at the time, was likely worth a whole lot in trade. It’s tough to imagine the Cubs returning quite as much value for him after he imploded down the stretch, but it’s important to remember that there is still quite a bit of value remaining for a team that acquires Shark.

Despite finishing the 2013 season with an ERA of 4.34 (112 ERA-), Samardzija nearly matched his 2012 FIP of 3.55 while seeing only slight regressions in his strikeout and walk rates. In total, Shark has produced nearly 6 fWAR over the last two seasons, good for 33rd amongst qualified starters. He has only pitched to a 4.10 ERA in that span, but has a 3.67 FIP and 3.51 SIERA in his time as a starter. With a few more innings under his belt at the same production, you’re looking at a pitcher who provides top-25 value.

This is the dream the Cubs are selling other teams – Samardzija is a strong third starter on a good squad, blessed with a body that should let him throw 220+ innings over each of the next few years with run prevention rates that hopefully catch up to his ERA estimators. If a team buys into that projection, and it only makes sense for the Cubs to trade him if one does, Samardzija still looks like a pretty valuable player for another team.

In estimating Samardzija’s future production, I’m assuming he is roughly a 3.75 FIP, 220 IP starter over the next two seasons, or roughly 3 to 3.5 wins above replacement. I’ve titled this table as an optimistic projection, but I think it is quite reasonable to expect such production out of him.

Samardzijatradeoptimistic

That figure of nearly $25 million in surplus value is nothing to scoff at. According to Victor Wang’s research, that’s the equivalent of a top 11-25 hitting prospect (think Albert Almora). Since the Cubs are looking for pitching, Samardzija would be worth a top 10 pitching prospect and a back-end top-100 prospect. Given Tyler Skaggs‘ scary decline and Archie Bradley‘s current stock, the package of the two of them that the Cubs are asking for seems like it fits that profile very well. I have to think that, if the Cubs could get such a deal, they absolutely have to take it.

(As an aside – pitching prospects are generally valued less than hitting prospects due to their increased risk of injury and busting outright. Remember this when you read people proposing deals like “Lets just trade one of the Big 4 for Taillon” or something along those lines – each one of the Big 4 is worth so, so much more than just one great pitching prospect)

Trading Samardzija for anything less would be a mistake in my eyes. The Cubs are set to graduate an enormous amount of talent over the next two seasons, and if that group exceeds expectations, a pitcher like Samardzija would be an incredibly important anchor, both in the rotation and in the clubhouse. If the Cubs do not receive impact talent in return, the road to a rebuilt rotation is even longer than it was before.

The other upside of holding onto Samardzija (unless you receive top dollar) is that, given his peripherals, he could easily go on a prolonged stretch of incredible pitching that makes him even more valuable on the market. All it takes is a few lucky months of a 5% HR/FB% to make him look like a must-have pitcher, and if he becomes one, the Cubs could basically choose whoever they wanted out of a contending team’s system. This is more fantasy than well-thought-out numbers, but sometimes strange things happen when a club needs a good starting pitcher to eat innings.
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