Unsurprisingly, the Chicago Cubs are sitting in last place in the NL Central and the team is already looking to sell some of their veteran players for top prospects. The Cubs’ ace pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, seems to be pitching his final games for Chicago’s North Siders as trade talks continue to loom over the 29-year-old starter.
At multiple times over the last six months, reports have come out that Samardzija has rejected contract extensions offered by the Cubs. At one point, the sides faced a gap of $40 million with neither side willing to budge.
As the trade deadline approaches at the end of July, talks will only continue to heat up between the Cubs and potential suitors. On June 18, MLBTradeRumors.com reported that the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Cleveland Indians, and Cincinnati Reds were all paying close attention to Samardzija’s recent outings.
Samardzija has been excellent so far this season, posting a 2.53 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP through 16 starts. However, his record is just 2-6 due to a severe lack of run support; 12 of his 16 outings have been quality starts.
While his strikeouts are down, Samardzija has forced batters into hitting groundballs. Thus far into the 2014 season, Samardzija has a career high for percentage of outs by ground ball. Samardzija has also limited the long ball. Over the last two seasons, his home run to fly ball ratio was 12.8% and 13.3%. Through June 24, Samardzija has cut that ratio in half to just 6.6%.
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Just taking a look at Samardzija’s numbers instantly reveals how valuable he is in a fantasy league. Of course, his ownership is at 100% in ESPN Fantasy Baseball leagues, so there is no opportunity to snatch him out of free agency, although, for the right players, he is certainly available via trade.
Now that we’ve taken a look at Samardzija’s stats, lets discuss what some of these potential trades could do to his fantasy value.
Toronto Blue Jays
One of the clear front-runners in the Samardzija sweepstakes is the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays have good pitching prospects to offer the Cubs and they have shown in the past that they are willing to give up prospects for veteran players – for example R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, and Mark Buehrle.
If Samardzija does get shipped to Toronto, he’ll likely see a quick increase to his ERA. Typically, the American League has better hitting teams than the National League – five of the top six teams in team batting average are from the AL and five of the worst seven teams in team batting average are from the NL. Not to mention, pitching a majority of games against the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, and Tampa Bay Rays is much more intimidating than the likes of the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, and St. Louis Cardinals.
According to ESPN’s Park Factor, pitching in Toronto is less favorable to pitchers than Chicago. Currently, Wrigley Field is ranked 19th and Toronto’s Roger’s Centre is ranked 6th in hitter friendliness.
A trade to the Blue Jays will not just hurt his ERA, it will also raise his WHIP; it will make it harder for him to earn quality starts on a consistent basis. Overall, I think a trade to the Blue Jays – or any American League team for that matter – would cause Samardzija’s fantasy value to fall.
The only real competition to the Blue Jays as the front-runner in the Samardzija sweepstakes is the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles have a stellar offense with Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz, and Adam Jones leading the way, but their pitching staff ranks 20th in the MLB in ERA – the Blue Jays are in a similar boat in this regard.
Much of what was previously mentioned about Samardzija facing tougher hitters in the AL, and the AL East in particular, would be the same if he was traded to the Orioles. The biggest difference between pitching in Baltimore and Toronto is the ballpark, although still a slim difference.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards is one of the most pitcher friendly parks throughout the majors. In fact, it currently ranks as the 2nd most pitcher friendly park, trailing only Citi Field.
Going to the Orioles would still decrease Samardzija’s fantasy value, but it may be preferable to Toronto just because the ballpark in Baltimore is a bit kinder to pitchers.
San Francisco Giants or Cincinnati Reds
Being traded to a National League team such as the Giants or Reds would be the best possible outcome for Samardzija owners. He would continue to have favorable matchups and move from a poor Cubs team to a team that could offer him much better chances at winning ballgames.
Samardzija’s entire career has been spent with the Cubs. He knows the National League’s hitters and ballparks much better than the American League’s. He would certainly be more comfortable pitching in the NL than the AL.
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