Sep 17, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija pitches in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Could the Cubs Use Jeff Samardzija To Trade for David Prce?

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.

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Tags: David Price Jeff Samardzija Tampa Bay Rays

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  • Jason Nereim

    If Price is clearly the better player and carries the better value, how would adding a B prospect like Johnson or Alcantara close that gap? I think you are underselling Price’s value quite a bit. Maybe it would work in a vacuum, but not in this market.

    More tangible and likely would be a 3 team trade or a separate transaction between the Cubs and another club. Maybe Cubs trade Samardzija to ARI for Skaggs and Trahan or to ATL for Sims and Bethencourt, Then use those pieces to acquire Price. Then the respective packages would look like Baez, Johnson, (Sims/Skaggs), (Bethancourt/Trahan)

    • Robbie_Knopf

      You’re right on that first point, and I just edited the article slightly to reflect that. It would take Samardzija, Johnson or Alcantara, and still a couple more players to complete the package. At the end of the day, though, the whole point of this maneuver from the Cubs’ standpoint is to get Price without giving up Baez or Kris Bryant, and why would they trade Samardzija and still do just that?

  • jdsmith84

    “Would he be willing to take say a three-year, $27 million deal?”
    Answer:no. Hence why the Cubs are listening to offers for him.

    • Robbie_Knopf

      The Cubs are trying to extend him for four or five years. Three years–just one free agent year–would be an entirely different story.

      • jdsmith84

        No it would not. Samardzija wants BIG money, no way he delays free agency by a year on a team-friendly deal. He believes he’s an ace and wants to be paid like one. The years are not the issue – it’s the money.

        • Robbie_Knopf

          Define team-friendly. You could have Samardzija make $5 million the first year, $9 million the second, and $13 million the third. The first two years would be what Samardzija was on track to make through arbitration anyway, with the 2015 money even assuming that he will have a great 2014 season. Then the third year is $13 million guaranteed–would Samardzija really turn that down when there are so many things that could happen to prevent him from getting that much on the open market? We’re talking real money here. It’s making his worst-case scenario so much better in exchange for one free agent year, and I don’t see how Samardzija could reject that.

          (Would the Rays really pay Samardzija $13 million? Probably not. The third-year option would be on there primarily to entice teams to trade for Samardzija after 2014 or 2015.)

          Your follow-up might be “if Samardzjia would take that, then why aren’t the Cubs offering him that?” The answer is that the next three years mean a lot more to the Tampa Bay Rays then they do the Chicago Cubs as the Cubs continue rebuilding.

          • jdsmith84

            Samardzija would absolutely turn down $13 mil guaranteed for his first free agent year. He believes he is/will be a top of the rotation pitcher and is willing to accept the risks that come with waiting for free agency. We live in a world where Phil Hughes just got $24 mil guaranteed.

          • jdsmith84

            He also received a $10 mil signing bonus to not play football. Dude’s not exactly hurting for money.

          • Robbie_Knopf

            Financial security has nothing to do with hurting for money. It’s not like every single player the Rays have ever extended did so because he was poor. When you get a great deal, you take it, and $13 million no strings attached is a great deal. Phil Hughes got that money, but Samardzija isn’t there yet. He has two years to go, and what if he gets injured? Samardzija has a price for that free agent year. Make it $15 million, make it $17, and Samardzija agrees. It’s simply a matter of marginal benefit and marginal cost, and the benefit of that contract outweighs the cost of not being a free agent that year.

          • Robbie_Knopf

            By the way, Samardzija is older than Phil Hughes already. Doesn’t exactly help his free agency case.

          • jdsmith84

            Another reason for him not to postpone his chance at a big free agent payday.

          • jdsmith84

            Of course he’s not poor. My point is that with a $10 million signing bonus he has more financial security already than most players in his position and is better positioned to wait for a big free agent payday should he choose to do so. That is exactly what he is doing and why the Cubs are listening to offers.

            What exactly do you mean by no strings attached? Jeff Samardzija wants to maximize his earnings, and that deal doesn’t do it. “And what if he gets injured?” Great question. What if he gets injured between year 2 and year 3 of that deal? What could have been a huge free agent contract after year 2 is not happening after year 3.

            I’m very much aware of marginal benefit vs marginal cost. And of course there is an amount of money that would buy out that first free agent year. It’s just not $13 million.

          • Robbie_Knopf

            If he gets injured between year 2 and year 3, he doesn’t get a big free agent contract and that’s exactly the point. $13 million would mean a lot more. As an older player, that is especially pertinent. And once again, if not $13 million than $15 million or $17 million.

            But at the end of the day, nice discussion and I’ll agree to a draw.

          • jdsmith84

            Maybe I should have said gets injured during year 3. Either way i don’t think injury plays into his thinking at all here. He simply believes he’s a better pitcher than he’s shown to date and feels like signing any sort of extension would be selling himself short.

            You mentioned earlier that the next three years mean more to the Rays than the Cubs. Why, then, would the Cubs trade Shark AND prospects who figure to be part of the next good Cubs team for two years of Price?

          • Robbie_Knopf

            Acquiring Price changes things–and for a player like Price, the Cubs would extend beyond their comfort zone for an extension.

            And if Samardzija thinks that highly of himself, why should one year change that? Take a precaution of things go wrong and still set yourself up for a payday of things go well. If the Rays offered David Price the same extension multiplied by however many times, Price would say no. But Samardzija has just two years as a starter under his belt and so much to lose.

          • jdsmith84

            How does acquiring Price change things? Swap Samardzija for Price right now and the Cubs are still a bad team with a weaker farm system and a higher payroll. This leaves them with an ace in Price, a solid number 3 in Wood, sub-replacement level Jackson and a crapshoot for the back of the rotation. And the offense is still well below average. Price changes nothing.

            When Theo has enough cheap young talent in place on the MLB roster I think he will go out of his comfort zone for a player like Price. He’s certainly not about to trade future value for an extra three wins this year that mean absolutely nothing.

            As to your second point, HE DOESN’T NEED TO TAKE THAT PRECAUTION. The fact that he only has two years as a starter under his belt is why feels he still has room to get improve and doesn’t want to settle for less money than he thinks he can make two years from now. Some players sign extensions three months into the MLB careers for financial security. Some bet on themselves and hold out for the maximum payday. Samardzija is the latter.