5. The Cubs are the other seller everyone’s watching.
And Jeff Samardzija is the other pitcher everyone’s talking about. The Cubs ace and 29-year-old right-hander currently ranks 11th in the NL in strikeout rate, at 22.9 percent, and 10th in ERA, at 2.83. Like Price, he’d be more than a rental, offering team control through 2015. Unlike Price — who’d cost just less than half of his $14 million salary this year, plus likely another $20 million via arbitration next year — Samardzija’s base salary is just $5.3 million in 2014, and will probably be about $10 million next season after arbitration. Of course, Samardzija can’t match Price’s track record of sustained dominance, and teams putting extra weight on recent results might not look favorably on the 24 runs (20 earned) and .879 OPS allowed that Samardzija has posted in his past six starts and 33 innings. What’s more, the Cubs’ asking price for Samardzija is said to be sky-high, which could dissuade some shoppers.
There might be a compelling alternative on the same team: Jason Hammel. The 31-year-old righty’s numbers compare well to Samardzija’s almost across the board, from a 4.6-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate to a sub-3.00 ERA. Hammel pitched poorly for the Orioles last year, which is how the Cubs were able to grab him on a one-year, $6 million contract just one season after his very good (if abbreviated) 2012 campaign.
Regardless of what move or moves the Cubs make, possessing two attractive commodities like this sets up some intriguing possibilities.
“I think the Cubs will do what they did last year: trade somebody like Hammel first to set up Samardzija closer to the trade deadline,” said an NL exec, referencing last year’s trade season, when Chicago dealt Scott Feldman on July 2 and Matt Garza 20 days later.
With Hammel pitching well and eligible for free agency at season’s end, he offers a rare combination of solid performance potential and relatively low cost, which has caught several teams’ interest. Several of the front-office sources I interviewed noted the Jays’ interest in Hammel in particular.