This offseason, two talented pitchers are on the trade market with two years remaining under team control: David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays and Jeff Samardzija of the Chicago Cubs. While both will be sought after, Price is clearly the better pitcher and will demand a higher return. The interesting wrinkle, though, is that even while they consider dealing Samardzija, the Cubs are rumored to be pursuing Price. Is it possible that the Cubs could package Samardzija together with a prospect or two to kill two birds with one stone?
Why would the Cubs want to deal for Price in what would clearly be a win-now move? You have to assume the Cubs would only acquire Price if they could extend him, but why not just extend Samardzija for millions less? Jeff Samardzija is a great pitcher, but he is not a franchise-changer like David Price. When you acquire a player like Price, it energizes your entire team–it could be exactly the right medicine for a franchise that has seen so little success as the years have gone on. It would cost money to extend him, but if Samardzija is the primary trade chip, the Cubs would be able to acquire Price without using any of the top prospects they treasure so dearly. Instead of dealing players like Javier Baez and C.J. Edwards to make a deal happen, Samardzija and either Pierce Johnson or Arismendy Alcantara could be enough to headline the package. The money to extend Price would be a risk, but it is a risk worth taking if they can acquire Price for the right package of players. Dealing Samardzija could be the most painless way to do just that.
Would the Rays take Samardzija for Price? The Rays do have some precedent for trading a major leaguer and getting major leaguers back: the Delmon Young trade with the Minnesota Twins that netted them Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. However, the Rays certainly did nothing along those lines in their trades of Garza to the Cubs and James Shields to the Kansas City Royals that appear to be the templates for a potential Price deal and there is no obvious reason to change. The Rays’ strategy has been to build for the future with the prospects they acquire and replace the departed player with internal options. Jeremy Hellickson replaced Garza as the Rays’ third starter in 2011, and Alex Cobb stepped into Shields’ role as topflight starter alongside Price in 2013. This year, though, the Rays are not about to replace Price with a pitcher of even close to equal measure. Cobb and Matt Moore are talented, but are either ready to make the jump to an ace? Jeff Samardzija is not an ace himself, but it would help lessen the drop-off from Price if the Rays have another more veteran starter with the ability to be a very good pitcher in his own right.
Acquiring Samardzija for Price would save the Rays a major chunk of money the next two years. Samardzija is projected to make $4.9 million versus Price’s $13.1 million, and that would be $8 million dollars for the Rays to immediately put into plugging other holes. Samardzija may not be as good as Price, but the Rays may be better off with Samardzija and say Justin Morneau than Price and a lower-profile first baseman. Then the Rays could either trade Samardzija following the season if Cobb, Moore, and company develop as hoped and still get a strong return. On the other hand, Samardzija could be much easier than Price to extend. He’s set to make under $5 million this year–would he be willing to take say a three-year, $27 million deal that would provide him with some financial security in exchange for one free agent year? Then, if the Rays wish, they could use Samardzija as a rotation mainstay for a year or two before making him the next high-profile starter they deal.
A trade of David Price to the Chicago Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and a prospect would be strange for both sides. Samardzija is actually seven months older than Price–how often is a high-profile trade chip older than the player he is being traded for?–and it could be the rare trade where both sides have a 24-hour window to nail down an extension before the trade is completed. At the end of the day, however, it could be something worthwhile for both sides. Why should the Cubs wheel and deal when they can solve all their problems in one foul swoop? And for the Rays, getting prospects back for Price seems like their preference, but getting a talented major league starter, a strong prospect, and the possibility of trading for even more down the road could be too much to pass up.