Monday, 25 November 2013

Blue Jays Looking to Explore Shark Infested Waters?

So there I was Saturday night, trying to enjoy a 60th birthday party that couldn’t decide if it wanted to be 50’s or 60’s themed, hoping against hope that baseball would cooperate and allow me to ignore it for just one night. However, that was just too much to ask on this particular Saturday, with Brian McCann signing with the Yankees for a potential six-year, $100 million deal depending on what happens with a vesting option. The average annual value is a bit surprising, but might not be by the end of an off-season that will likely be full of surprising contracts. "McCann Signs With Yankees For All The Money" was such a foreseeable headline that I don't even feel the need to spend any time looking at it. Everyone knew it was coming, and if anything is most surprising it's that it even took this long to happen. 

As if that weren’t enough excitement in baseball land though, this also happened:

Samardzija is a hard throwing right-hander that was converted from a reliever to a starter in 2012, and has been solid if unspectacular in that role since. As a starter, he’s pitched to a 4.34 ERA, striking out 23.3% of the batters he’s faced and walking 8.5%. With that gaudy strikeout rate, the fielding independent metrics like him a fair bit more than his results have, as his FIP is 3.88 and his xFIP better still at 3.57. He is under contract for two more seasons, and it sounds as though the Cubs were having a hard time getting an extension done with him, contributing to his rumoured availability.

On the one hand, he’s been durable and reasonably effective as a starter, and with his strikeout stuff there are indications that he has deserved better than his results thus far in his career. He’s still in arbitration, and is projected to make about $4.9 million next season, so he’s a bargain for the time being, and the two remaining years of team control fit nicely with the team’s current core of players. If his results get more in line with his fielding independent numbers, at his salary he could be a tidy little bargain for a team that acquires him.

On the other, he doesn’t have a long track record from which to draw conclusions.  He pitched 200 innings last season, and 174 the one before, so he’s been durable so far. However, pitchers are always durable until they aren’t any more, and people more knowledgeable than I about such things point to some red flags in his mechanics that concern them. That the Cubs have had such difficulty with an extension might mean that the Blue Jays would as well, so we probably have to operate on the assumption that the two years of him is all they would be getting. Plus, there is always the possibility that his results never line up with his peripheral numbers and the Blue Jays end up forking over a significant prospect package for a 4+ ERA innings eater. Those guys have value, but I’m sure the Cubs will be trying to sell him as a viable front of the rotation option and seeking to be compensated accordingly. From yesterday:

Yikes. Obviously there's some room for ambiguity in "top youngsters", but it certainly sounds as though Chicago would be pushing pretty hard for an Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman, plus two or three other fairly significant pieces as well. That's a pretty hefty price, should it come to that, and one I'm not so sure the Blue Jays should be willing to pay for Samardzija. 

I see the front of the rotation potential in Samardzija, but I'd probably draw the line at Sanchez or Stroman when we're talking about a guy like the Shark who so far just hasn't quite been able to translate his impressive peripherals into keeping runs off the board. Just about anyone else in the system though, and I'd do it in a heartbeat. 

Perhaps I'm being overly pessimistic with what the Cubs will realistically be expecting. Of course they'll ask for one of those guys initially, but what will they actually be willing to accept if the Jays don't bite at that price? The Cubs are pretty much in a full rebuild right now, so it's possible that they would be more willing than most to accept some of the high-ceiling talent the Jays have in the low-minors, and which would fit well with the timeline of much of the Cubs' current stable of young talent. I doubt they'd be swayed by taking quantity over quality, but they also might not be as opposed to accepting talent that is still a long way from the majors as a team with more immediate competitive aspirations might be. 

Either way, the price will be steep, and that makes me wary as this scenario has all the makings of what I wrote about the other day. If, as so many Jays fans (and members of the media) seem to want to believe, Anthopoulos' job is hanging by a thread, what will he care if a Franklin Barreto or DJ Davis turns into a star years after he's been fired? I like to think he's more mindful of the long term than that, but that's always the risk with GMs in hot seats. If, for whatever reason (and I really hope it's not Rogers' "payroll parameters"), AA is unable to make moves in free agency he may feel the need to upgrade through these sorts of trades in order to keep his job. A desperate GM is a dangerous GM, and trading one of the organization's top two pitching prospects (both of whom might even contribute in 2014) for a guy that just hasn't quite been able to put it all together yet strikes me as a little bit desperate.

Who knows though? Maybe all my hand-wringing will be for naught if the Blue Jays balk and the asking price comes down, or they don't and Samardzija takes the next step and becomes a star. I will gladly eat my words should one of those scenarios play out, but I'm going to keep on banging the same drum I have been all off-season. At this point I'd much rather see them gambling with Rogers' money than prospect capital, even though I'm sure there'll be a little bit of both before spring training starts. I'm just not so sure that Samardzija is the pot I'd push all my chips into.

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