Even after acquiring Alfonso Soriano from the Cubs and getting Derek Jeter back from the DL, the Yankees figure to focus primarily on adding offense in advance of Wednesday’s trade deadline. They still need help at third base and a platoon partner for Lyle Overbay, plus an upgrade behind the plate is in order as well. The lineup has improved quite a bit over the last week, but there is still more work to be done.
That said, starting pitching has been an issue of late as well. The team’s starters have allowed at least four runs ten times in 24 games this month, including seven times in the last 14 games. CC Sabathia has been bad for two months and a disaster of late, Andy Pettitte has struggled since coming off the DL, and Phil Hughes continues to be up and (mostly) down. Hiroki Kuroda is as good as it gets and Ivan Nova has been excellent of late, but having two reliable starting pitchers is no way to go through life.
I wrote about the idea of adding a starting pitcher at the trade deadline not too long ago, and remember, the Yankees will need an arm or three for next year as well. At the moment, the projected rotation for 2014 is Sabathia, Nova, David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Michael Pineda, and that’s unlikely to take them anywhere meaningful. Adding a starter who can help them both down the stretch this year as well as next season and beyond sure seems like something worth exploring.
On Saturday, Ken Rosenthal reported the Cubs are listened to offers for right-hander Jeff Samardzija in advance of the non-waiver deadline. The 28-year-old former Notre Dame star (as a wide receiver) has found a home in Chicago’s rotation these last two years, but the rebuilding Cubbies are willing to turn him into prospects if the right deal comes along — the “asking price (is) high, as expected,” hears Rosenthal. Does the one they affectionately call Shark make sense for the Yankees? Let’s break it down.
- After going up and down and working primarily out of the bullpen earlier in his career, Samardzija has pitched to a 3.87 ERA and 3.60 FIP as a starter the last two years. That includes a 3.94 ERA and 3.66 FIP in 21 starts this season. He’s averaged a solid 6.1 innings per start.
- Samardzija’s strikeout rate as a starter is excellent. He’s at 9.21 K/9 and 24.5 K% since the start of 2012 (9.13 K/9 and 24.0 K% this year), including a very good 22.9 K% against non-pitchers. Samardzija’s 24.1% (!) swing-and-miss rate since last season is the ninth best among qualified starters, just behind Clayton Kershaw (24.2%).
- In addition to the strikeouts, his ground ball rate is trending upward. Samardzija has a very good 48.1% grounder rate this year, up from 44.6% last year and 41.0% the year before. (He was in the bullpen in 2011). Strikeouts and grounders are a great combination.
- As you probably guessed, Samardzija has nasty, nasty stuff. Among qualified starters, both his two-seamer (94.7 mph) and four-seamer (95.0 mph) have the third highest average velocity since the start of last year (only Stephen Strasburg and David Price are better), and he holds it keep into games. He also throws a low-90s cutter, a mid-80s splitter, and a low-to-mid-80s slider. The slider is his top secondary pitch.
- Being a star football player for the Irish and an Opening Day starter for the Cubs are not exactly low-profile experiences. Samardzija knows all about being the center of attention and dealing with the media and all that.
- Samardzija will earn $2.64M this year and is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in both 2014 and 2015. He’ll be relatively cheap these next two years and the team will have the flexibility to non-tender him if push comes to shove.
- Although his walk rate these last two years is solid (3.12 BB/9 and 8.3 BB%), Samardzija went from a 2.89 BB/9 and 7.8 BB% last year to a 3.42 BB/9 and 9.0 BB% this year. He is prone to those ugly four and five-walk starts from time to time.
- Samardzija is kinda homer prone. Since moving into the rotation last year, he has a 1.01 HR/9 and 12.7% HR/FB rate. He also has a bit of a platoon split, holding righties to a .291 wOBA (3.04 FIP) while lefties have put up a .307 wOBA (3.80 FIP). Not a huge difference, at least in terms of end results, but a difference nonetheless.
- His track record is very limited even though he’s spent parts of six years in the show. Samardzija has yet to crack 175 innings in the season (only two seasons with more than 100 innings) and who knows how (or if) he’ll hold up for 200+ innings annually with his more-than-moderate-effort delivery. He’ll also turn 29 next January, so he’s young but not a spring chicken. Thirty is right around the corner.
- Samardzija is out of options and can’t be sent to the minors without first passing through waivers. Not a huge deal at this point, but it does limit flexibility if things go wrong.
The Yankees love physically big pitchers, and Samardzija is listed at 6-foot-5 and 225 lbs. on the Cubs’ official site. It’s also worth noting that pitching coach Larry Rothschild knows the right-hander from his time with the Cubs, though the fact that Samardzija broke out after Rothschild left town might be an indication the two didn’t work well together. Samardzija was also David Phelps’ teammate for a year at Notre Dame. The Yankees do have some inside info at their disposal.
Given their lack of upper level pitching prospects and an utter inability to develop high-end starters, trading for Samardzija might be the best chance for the Yankees to add an impact starter to their rotation at a reasonable financial price. It’ll cost more than a few quality prospects to acquire him, but his unique career path means there aren’t many comparable trades we can reference. Two and a half years of an above-average but not elite starter closing in on 30 with only one full year in the rotation to his credit? Don’t see many deals involving those guys.
Samardzija has not made much, if any, improvement from 2012 to 2013 outside of his ground ball rate. He’s really good right now, but I don’t think it’s safe assumption that he’ll continue to improve as he gains more experience just because he was awesome stuff. And it is awesome — legit bat-missing power stuff that would play just fine in the rough and tough AL East. Samardzija might just be another A.J. Burnett, the guy who looks like he should be an ace but continues to fall short of that performance level. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. Burnett’s had a pretty damn good career.
Anyway, if I had a pitcher like Samardzija in this current market — it’s a seller’s market, prices are high — I’d want four young players back, at minimum. A top prospect, a second top-100 type of prospect, a third quality piece, and a fourth lower-level lottery ticket type. A bit more than the Cubs got for Matt Garza despite Samardzija’s lack of track record because of the two extra years of team control. Even if he “only” winds up as a good number three starter, the Yankees could definitely use a pitcher like a Samardzija, who at least offers a chance to blow up and become an ace.
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