Jeff Samardzija’s Failed $100 Million Gamble
Chicago White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija is entering critical territory in regards to his quest for a mega contract. And if he has dreams of ever playing in a postseason game, ESPN’s “World Series of Poker” is probably even less of an option.
Because he is a horrible gambler.
According to Fox Sport’s Jon Morosi, Samardzija passed on a five-year, $85 million extension with the Chicago Cubs shortly before he was traded to the Oakland Athletics last season.
At the time, this made a lot of sense. Samardzija was the hottest pitcher in the National League and free agency was just on the horizon.
He would go on to finish 2014 with a flashy 2.99 ERA and 202 strikeouts. He looked the part of an ace, and when the White Sox acquired him in the offseason, he apparently felt he had a couple aces in his own hand as well.
The logic was simple. After seeing Jon Lester land a six-year, $155 million deal from the Cubs and Max Scherzer head to the Washington Nationals on a seven-year, $210 million contract, the earning potential couldn’t have looked better.
All Samardzija had to do was build on his solid 2014 season and show that it wasn’t an outlier. If he could do that, he would be rewarded with his own mega payday.
To be honest, I thought he had a real shot at doing so. This was an ultra-competitive player playing for his hometown team in a contract year. All the variables were lining up for Samardzija to have a monster season.
The issue is that he was blinded by these dollar signs and ignored the safer alternative.
When White Sox general manager Rick Hahn acquired the right-hander in the offseason, he made it clear that the White Sox were hoping for a long-term relationship. Samardzija had even publicly stated before the trade that he would certainly consider the White Sox as a free agency destination.
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While it’s unclear as to whether or not the White Sox seriously engaged with Samardzija on extension talks over the offseason, there is evidence to suggest that they were willing to go past $100 million.
When the White Sox missed out on Japanese hurler Masahiro Tanaka, multiple reports had them surpassing the $100 million mark in their pursuit. ESPN’s Doug Padilla explains the thought process behind the chase and Hahn’s quote in this article can be used as context when looking at how this may have applied to Samardzija.
"“Tanaka’s age and ability were the biggest reasons the White Sox were willing to spend heavily this time around.‘It was a substantial economic offer and if a similar situation presents itself in terms of the ability to find a long-term solution for one of our needs, we’ll be able to dip into those resources again.'”"
Samardzija was similar to Tanaka in that he had thrown less innings than the seasoned veterans around him, and still had some untapped potential beyond his resume. There were also the intangibles, such as his fiery passion and ability to be a clubhouse leader. Tanaka was also touted as being able to handle the big stage and bring intensity along with his elite stuff.
Thus, it’s fair to say that Samardzija likely fell under the criteria Hahn stated above, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the White Sox were willing to make an offer in the six-year, $120 million range.
Again, while there’s no confirmation a deal of that magnitude was ever on the table, Samardzija seemed dead set on heading to free agency to even entertain talks enough for it to get to that point.
Well, I have one word for the Notre Dame alum; Hindsight.
In hindsight, he and his agent Mark Rodgers probably should have taken these discussions a little more seriously. According to MLB.com’s Adam Berry, they were open to going to the table but Samardzija’s agent also dropped this quote on MLB Network in February:
"“‘If Jeff continues to get exponentially better, I don’t know where the market for that goes. He’s got No. 1-type stuff,” Rodgers said. “He’s got Cy Young-type stuff to win 20 games, strike out 230-240 guys in 220 innings and just have a monster year. So to talk about what his value is in free agency a year early would really do him injustice because I think there’s more to come, better to come for Jeff.'”"
There in lies the calculus behind Samardzija’s decision to go all in and the justification behind pushing all of his chips to the center.
It’s quotes such as this that make me question just how serious Samardzija really was about foregoing free agency. From this, you can extract that him and his agent were chasing the best case scenario, one that would net the righty a deal even rivaling Max Scherzer‘s. Simply put, they were going for the royal flush.
Well this is the hand he’s been dealt as of August 15th:
A 4.78 ERA, a FIP over 4.00, and a less than attractive 6.6 SO/9 ratio.
Yeah, that’s not going to be worth $100 million.
Jeff Samardzija’s had a roller coaster season filled with heights as tall as Mount Everest and troughs as low as the Mariana Trench. However, a marvelous July (2.27 ERA and a complete game over five quality starts) seemed to put him back on track to actually converting on his desired payout.
Then the dog days of August hit, in which he’s been good for a 12.91 ERA and the competence of a BP pitching machine. The issue is that bonafide aces don’t have stretches like this. These types of numbers just aren’t in their vocabulary.
Are you really worth $20+ million a year if you even have the potential to be this bad?
Samardzija gambled on himself hoping for a Royal Flush. Instead, he’s been dealt a 4.78 ERA.
Samardzija still has his control A 1.8 BB/9 and 3.64 SO/W ratio proves as much. He still has his “stuff”, as his four-seam fastball has shown movement and his breaking stuff is breaking. What he hasn’t had, is any sort of semblance of command.
Even if his elite offerings find themselves in the zone, he can’t locate his pitches consistently on the corners or outside of the wheelhouse of the opposition. When you hear an announcer say “that’s a pitcher’s pitch”, take note that this is the area Samardzija has struggled the most. He simply can’t generate them.
Another area of concern is the plummet in his strikeout rate. Samardzija relies on strikeouts to get himself out of jams, and the key difference between his success last year and his failures this season is his inability to orchestrate the key whiff. His splitter is his strikeout weapon, but he has been unable to locate it in the right place. The result has been relying on a defense that’s burned him more often than not.
His agent Mark Rodgers can’t even argue that Samardzija’s troubles stem from his home ballpark. He has a 5.28 ERA away from U.S. Cellular Field, which is actually worse than his home split.
Samardzija has another catalyst working against him in his impending free agency. The field of elite free agent arms is vast.
Here’s a look at some of the high-end names that will be out there starting in November:
Zack Greinke* (Assuming opt-out)
Even the tier below the stratosphere Samardzija hoped to be in is stacked:
Those first four are all strong bets for netting contracts that surpass $100 million, but let me ask you this. Is Doug Fister worth a nine-figure deal?
Like Samardzija, he’s having an awful season but is also on the heels of a 2014 in which he went 16-6 with a sparkling 2.41 ERA. Sure, he doesn’t have the strikeout acumen of Samardzija, but does Samardzija really have that anymore either.
How about Hisashi Iwakuma?
If he wasn’t 34, then maybe. In fact, Iwakuma’s 3.86 ERA will probably land him a three-year deal that may appeal to a team who doesn’t want to commit beyond five seasons, which further deteriorates Samardzija’s market as a plan B.
At this point, Kazmir is a better bet to land a $100 million deal. He’s only a year older than Samardzija and has built on an all-star season in ’14 with a 2.38 ERA and a strikeout ratio above 8.0 so far this season.
Aug 11, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcherScott Kazmir
(26) pitches the ball against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Thus, Samardzija’s market is looking like it might resemble the Sierra Desert. Sure, scouts love his “stuff”, strong build, and competitive gumption but there are four aces ahead of him and two solid plan B options in Iwakuma and Kazmir.
Plus, the White Sox will likely extend him a qualifying offer, which will hurt his market as he’ll have the draft pick compensation attached to him.
Jeff Samardzija bet on himself and lost miserably, and the price may just turn out to be one-hundred million dollars.
Ervin Santana learned about that the hard way after the 2013 season, when he hoped a 3.24 ERA would lead to a contract eclipsing the eight-figure mark. To his disappointment, his market never developed and he wound up signing a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves that closely resembled the qualifying offer he had turned down at the end of the season.
I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar scenario played out for Samardzija.
So this leads me to another item to pontificate. It might actually be in Samardzija’s best interest to accept the qualifying offer, which will probably be around $16 million. This would allow him to rebuild his value and enter a 2017 market that per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, will have a cream of the crop that features Stephen Strasburg, Jake Peavy, Andrew Cashner, and Jered Weaver. Outside of Strasburg, Samardzija is probably the most attractive option among what will be the “top tier” in 2017 free agency.
If we’re talking about Samardzija being a better’s man, then it makes a lot of sense to fold now and try to cash in later.
Of course, if he were to replicate this season in 2016, then any prayer of a long-term deal will evaporate along with his struggles.
Regardless, one thing is clear. Jeff Samardzija bet on himself and lost miserably, and the price may just turn out to be one-hundred million dollars.
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