An extension between the Cubs and Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija this offseason "looks like a long shot" according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Wittenmyer's sources indicate that a sizable financial gap exists between the two sides, and neither is confident that said gap can be closed this winter.
Samardzija, 28, completed his first 200-inning season in 2013, totaling a 4.31 ERA with 9.0 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 48.2 percent ground-ball rate. His ERA is surprising when considering his K/BB numbers and strong ground-ball rate, and indeed, sabermetric stats such as xFIP (3.45) and SIERA (3.60) feel that he had quite a bit of poor luck on his side.
Samardijza has transitioned from a solid setup man to a reliable rotation piece in recent years. He's racked up 388 1/3 innings in Chicago's rotation since Opening Day 2012 and figures to hold down a spot in their 2014 rotation as well, barring a trade.
The Cubs were willing to listen on Samardzija this July, with the Diamondbacks among the most frequently rumored teams to have interest. However, in the end, it was reported that the Cubs never got close to dealing the Notre Dame product and planned to discuss a long-term deal this offseason.
As shown in MLBTR's Extension Tracker, recent extensions for starting pitchers with between four and five years of service time include Matt Harrison (five years, $55MM), John Danks (five years, $65MM), Justin Verlander (five years, $80MM) and Felix Hernandez (five years, $78MM). Five years would seem is likely the target for agents Mark Rodgers and Sam Samardzija (Jeff's brother).
This is my own speculation, but the Danks contract may be the Samardzija camp's floor, as the 3.99 ERA compiled by Danks over his 383 1/3 innings prior to the extension is similar to the 4.10 mark that Samardzija owns over his past 388 frames. While Danks had a slight edge in ERA and control, Samardzija has Danks dwarfed in strikeouts, has a more impressive ground-ball rate and is considered a better pitcher in sabermetric circles.
Wittenmyer spoke with Samardzija's close friend and former teammate Ryan Dempster about the situation, with Dempster noting that Samardzija's strongest desire is to win with the Cubs. Wittenmyer points out that Samardzija has said all along that money isn't the biggest issue for him, but he also cautions that doesn't mean Cubs fans should expect a hometown discount. Samardzija has shown a willingness to go year-to-year at this point, and MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz expects a healthy raise on Samardzija's modest $2.64MM salary this offseason, projecting him to earn $4.9MM after the arbitration dust has settled.
Wittenmyer feels that barring an extension this offseason, Samardzija is certain to be dealt next July, if not this winter. The Cubs control Samardzija through the 2015 season, so dealing him with more than one year of team control left would maximize his trade value.