It has been 17 days since my last post here on Press Box Opinions. In that time, I’ve gone from hopeful of Jeff Samardzija signing a new contract with the Cubs, to trying to enjoy the few starts he has left in Chicago. It hasn’t been confirmed he’s going to be traded, but it’s a pipe dream to think he’ll be spending any time past this July on the North Side of Chicago.
I like Jeff Samardzija, I always have. I liked him when he was a wide receiver at Notre Dame, looking at a successful NFL career. I liked him when he signed to the Cubs and made it to the majors. I liked him when he struggled mightily in his first several seasons. And I like him now, when he is clearly the ace of the Cubs’ staff. That doesn’t mean he’s irreplaceable or worth breaking the bank for. As I mentioned, he struggled a whole lot in his first several seasons. In fact, he has a 4.19 career ERA prior to this season, as both a starter and as a reliever. Now this season, he has looked very good (he has slowed down recently, but he’s still doing well). Nonetheless, he’s already 30 years old, has a history of being a mediocre pitcher and is asking for money which he simply does not deserve. 5 years/$86 million was a very nice offer for Samardzija, and if he is willing to turn that down, he clearly is asking for way too much and/or simply just does not want to be a Cub anymore.
Jon Lester is another 30 year old pitcher. He was offered a deal by the Red Sox for 4 years/$70-$80 million this April. That deal would land him somewhere between $17.5 million and $20 million a year over the length of the deal. The contract that Jeff Samardzija was offered would net him approximately $17.2 million per season. Here’s the difference: Jon Lester is a two-time World Series champion, has much better career numbers than Samardzija (career stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference for Lester and Samardzija) and frankly has proven himself to be worthwhile of a major contract. Lester will get a big deal from a team and immediately become their ace or at least a top-two starter, depending on the situation. Samardzija would be lucky to be a number two starter in whatever rotation he goes to. Both of these players are going to use the insane Homer Bailey contract as a bargaining chip. Here’s what separates Lester and Samardzija though when you compare them to Homer Bailey: Jon Lester is a better pitcher, you can’t undoubtedly say the same thing about Jeff Samardzija.
The fact of the matter for the Cubs is that $86 million is a generous contract for Samardzija, he hasn’t done anything in his career to this point that warrants over $17 million per season (the Ricketts’ throwing money at something unnecessarily? Stunner!). This team is in it for the long haul, they aren’t looking to win now, and a pitcher that is already 30 who hasn’t proven himself to be a consistently dominant, or really anything close to that, player is not worth keeping around for that much money during a rebuilding period. The Chicago Cubs are looking to the future, and it’s a bright one, too. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are already in the majors (I’m still not convinced that Castro is worth keeping through this whole process, but it seems like he’s in Chicago to stay), and there are some studs in the minors. Javier Baez is picking it up, Jorge Soler is still working, Kris Bryant looks like he could be a star when he gets called up. The Cubs have money to spend on a legitimate ace in a year or two, they shouldn’t be throwing it at Jeff Samardzija now.
I have always been a Jeff Samardzija fan, but I realize that it’s really not worth keeping him at this point. If he doesn’t want to take a $17.2 million annual contract to stay in Chicago, then I wish him the best wherever he ends up going. Kansas City is lovely in the summer. I know plenty of Cubs fans will be sad to see him go, but it really is for the best. Hell, if the Cubs are able to pick up a good starting pitcher prospect in the trade the inevitably make to deal Samardzija, they’ve already won. The Chicago Cubs are rebuilding. Their future revolves around young prospects with a lot of potential, not an average-at-best 30 year old pitcher who wants to be paid way more than he deserves. Enjoy watching Jeff Samardzija in Chicago while you can, Cubs fans, you won’t have that opportunity much longer.