clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

MLB free agent predictions: Who should sign Jeff Samardzija?

One of the most enigmatic pitchers in the game is coming off a dreadful season. Will teams still line up to pay him?

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

If you want a fascinating list of names, explore the history of pitchers who led the league in earned runs. There are pitchers who should never have been put in that position. There are formerly great pitchers who never turned the corner. There are pitchers who had an abnormally awful season before rebounding the next year. And there are more than a couple of Hall of Famers.

One of the most common reasons for a pitcher to lead his league in earned runs is that he's too good to remove from the rotation. The pitcher throws a lot of innings and is generally competent, even though he's worse than usual. The Rays let James Shields work through his problems in 2010, and they were proven right. The Phillies had no choice but to keep A.J. Burnett in the rotation in 2014, but it turns out he wasn't broken at all. Edinson Volquez led the National League in earned runs in 2013, and he was the Game 1 starter for the team that won the World Series in 2015.

And occasionally, there are bad pitchers who pitched bad and should feel bad.

Our job today is to figure out which category Jeff Samardzija falls into. Technically, it's not our job. It's the job of GMs around baseball, one of whom will convince the owner of his team to spend millions and millions of dollars. That money will be a down payment on promise and stuff. Fingers will be crossed. It's a fine line between clever and stupid, and the Samardzija contract is walking over that line.

Let's take a spin around the baseball universe and see what the pundits are predicting Samardzija will get. First, Jon Heyman:

$85M, 5 years.

Goodness. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs:

Five years, $75 million

My stars. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors:

Five years, $80MM

Oh me, oh my. The consensus is between $15 million and $17 million, paid every season until Samardzija is 35. Over the last three years, he's started 98 games, and his ERA+ is 94, which makes him a below-average starter. If you choose to believe in FIP, he still graded out as a pitcher whose biggest contribution was to absorb innings. Not to mention, his strikeout rate dropped just over five percent, making him a below-average strikeout pitcher for the first time in his career.

On the other hand, he really does absorb innings. And his stuff is still pleasing to the naked eye, with an average fastball of 94.6 mph and the hardest cutter from any starter in the game. In a way, the gap between stuff and results reminds me of Max Scherzer back in the day. Eventually, the ERAs came down, way down, and there was a results-'n'-stuff equilibrium.

Of course, Scherzer was 27 when he turned the corner. Samardzija will be 31 when next season starts. There was already a feeling of "aaaany day now" with Scherzer. Samardzija is completely and utterly fetch by now. Can you imagine signing a 31-year-old pitcher for nearly $100 million because you think he's going to pitch better than he has over the last three years? Darren Dreifort and Gil Meche were both 28 when they signed their big deals. That appeared to be the cutoff point to enter the big-arm, little-production, big-money club, but we might have a new record.

On the other other hand, Samardzija was excellent as recently as 2014. U.S. Cellular is kind of a nightmare for pitchers, so maybe we'll give him a pass? And let's just see how the White Sox ranked defensively as a team and hey look at that they're one of the absolute worst teams in either league.

Still, $15 million a year? More? For five years? It'll take a team that can afford to ignore an expensive underperformer, and it'll take one willing to take a large risk to reap a large reward. That Venn diagram might be a little smaller than we think ...


Get all kinds of MLB stories, rumors, game coverage, and Vines of dudes getting hit in the beans in your inbox every day.

The Ideal

The Mariners aren't quite in the same spot they were two years ago, when they were floating on a sea of inexpensive young players and could afford to shock the world with a huge Robinson Cano deal. But they're still a $150 million-plus payroll kind of team that's been coming in well under that. They still just have just four players on long-term deals beyond this season. They can afford a miscue or three.

They also have the ballpark for Samardzija, and they can get a defense behind him in the offseason, too. Mike Montgomery seems like a pitcher who should put "rotation depth" on his business card, not "pitcher who prevents team from acquiring other pitchers."

More than any team in the league, the Mariners seem like they could shake off a Shark disaster, yet be perfectly in place to enjoy a career resurgence.

The likely

See, there is no "likely." You would have to bug the offices of every team in baseball, and my Cardinals contact isn't returning my emails. The likely team is the one that's convinced that Samardzija was a victim of unfortunate ballpark, lousy defense and bad luck. They're the ones looking at him like a house with good bones, something a competent contractor could flip in a month or so.

Good luck guessing exactly which team that is.

The Red Sox make a fair amount of sense and they have some scratch piled up in the corner, but they need to shoot for bigger and more reliable. Same goes for the Giants. The Pirates don't fit the money-to-burn description, but they do work magic with live-armed pitchers. The Orioles and Blue Jays need another starter and the latter might get pushed out of the Greinke/Price derby. The Tigers might want to get creative, and the Twins have already shown a willingness to make big moves on mercurial free agents. A reunion with the Cubs isn't out of the question, and the Marlins are making noise about re-re-re-re-re-entering the realm of free agent madness. The Padres might ...

Look, Samardzija is a fit for almost every team if he's making the minimum salary. He's a fit for almost all of them if he's making $5 million a year. The more you move up the scale, the more teams drop off, and you'll eventually be left with the one that believes in the arm more than the rest. The real answer to "ideal" is "Pirates, with a wacky new billionaire owner." What a beautiful dream.


Marlins. They are the perfect mystery team, wanting to spend money and needing to come completely over the top of any offer. No one is going to consider the Marlins, which is the same as picking a team for two years and a random team after that, unless the contract is too sweet to resist. The Marlins seem like the exact team that would pay the premium that the above prognosticators are prognosticating.

The Mariners make sense, until you remember that they would have to sacrifice the No. 11 pick, which could be devastating to the reloading/rebuilding. No, it's the Marlins, who wouldn't have to give up the pick, and who seem like that right mix of eager and wacky.

Jeff Samardzija, Marlins - Five years, $77 million