The Chicago Cubs have offered starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija a five-year contract extension, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The offer is rumored to be in the neighborhood of $85 million per Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi. Samardzija is off to the best start of his career with a 2.78 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 97 innings, while generating a career high in ground balls. He's set to be a free agent following the 2015 season and thus, has the Cubs in the difficult position of deciding whether to hold on to him despite a club that likely won't contend in that time frame, or trade him and continue to build for the future.
They're currently gunning for a third option: building for the future by retaining their best pitcher for the long haul. Their extension offer though is likely to be well below what Samardzija is seeking. He has some recent comparables in Homer Bailey, and going back a bit further, Matt Cain. Bailey signed a six-year, $105 million contract while Cain struck a deal for $127.5 million over six years (effectively a five-year, $112.5 million extension).
There are a few different factors at play here, of course. Bailey and Samardzija match up nicely in terms of career path, as both players have come on strong towards the ends of their club-controlled seasons, setting themselves up for nice paydays. Samardzija has been a bit better, but is also a year older than Bailey and has more time to free agency than Bailey did when he signed his long-term deal. The year difference in age shouldn't be a stumbling block though, especially given the lack of mileage on Samardzija's arm thanks to his prior football career and usage as a reliever on his way up the chain.
Cain too was closer to free agency than Samardzija is at this point, signing his extension just prior to the 2012 season, after which he would have become a free agent. He was also more accomplished than Samardzija, producing multiple seasons with an ERA under 3.00, and two all-star appearances prior to his deal, while Samardzija has zero seasons with an ERA under 3.00 (100-inning minimum) and zero all-star appearances.
His distance to free agency can only be held against him for so long though, as each game brings him a step closer to the open market. Samardzija also benefits from the growing dearth of quality players -- pitchers or no -- reaching the free agent market. Teams have more money to spend than ever before and fewer players to spend it on. So whether he's as qualified as Bailey, Cain or even Cole Hamels might matter less than that he's more available than they were. This was likely an act of due diligence for the Cubs front office -- a starting point more than a final offer -- and something to build off of while they also pursue trades that might make more sense in the longterm.