Jeff Samardzija Rumors
Building a rotation through free agency can be expensive and frustrating, so teams are understandably open to alternatives. One way for teams to avoid free agent salaries and long-term commitments is to move relief pitchers to the starting rotation. Yet few relievers have the repertoire and durability to succeed in the rotation, so it's not uncommon for converted relievers to flop as starters.
Here’s a mid-season update on four pitchers who jumped from the ‘pen to the rotation this year. None of the pitchers below had started more than three MLB games in a season before 2012 and all of them were big league relievers last year:
- Daniel Bard - Bard walked more batters than he struck out and posted a career-high ERA as a starting pitcher before being optioned to the minor leagues in early June. The right-hander saw his fastball velocity (93.1 mph) and swinging strike rate (7.9%) dip as a starter. He's now pitching out of the bullpen at Triple-A, and the results have been mixed. This attempted transition has been a disappointment.
- Neftali Feliz - The Rangers have successfully converted C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando to starting roles under Ron Washington and Mike Maddux in recent years, but Feliz's conversion didn't go nearly as well. He will miss the rest of the season and much of 2013 to undergo and recover from Tommy John surgery. Feliz's injury may be unrelated to his change in roles, but it doesn't make the reality of his elbow issues any more pleasant for the Rangers. The 24-year-old started just seven games before hitting the disabled list, and the results were acceptable, if not overwhelmingly positive: a 3.16 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 4.9 BB/9.
- Jeff Samardzija - Credit the Cubs for putting Samardzija in the rotation this spring. He's enjoying a breakout season with a 4.19 ERA, 9.0 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 120 1/3 innings (he recovered from an ugly month of June to string together some strong starts in July). The 27-year-old has maintained his fastball velocity, averaging 95 mph with his heater. Among MLB starters only Cole Hamels and Tim Lincecum generate a greater percentage of swings and misses (12.0%).
- Chris Sale - Sale has pitched to a 2.61 ERA through 124 innings with a 114K/31BB ratio and impressive hit and home run rates. The 2012 All-Star has lost some zip on his fastball (now 92.1 mph), but he continues to generate lots of swings and misses. A major success for rookie manager Robin Ventura, pitching coach Don Cooper and the White Sox.
Note: Though Lance Lynn, Anthony Bass and Felix Doubront pitched in relief last year, they also started in the minors for much of the 2011 season, so I don’t consider them converted relievers. Advanced stats via FanGraphs.
Clayton Kershaw's salary jumped from $500K to $7.5MM this year, and it wasn't just because of his Cy Young performance. Kershaw qualified for arbitration for the first time in his career over the winter, so he obtained the right to establish his salary by comparing his production to that of his peers.
Though $7MM raises are reserved for elite performers like Kershaw, many first-time eligible starting pitchers will see their salaries rise from $500K or so to $2-4.5MM this coming offseason. A player’s case depends in large part on his career numbers, but his most recent season, or platform year, matters a great deal.
Advanced statistics like xFIP, wins above replacement and swinging strike rate don't generally figure in to arbitration cases. Instead, traditional stats such as innings, starts, wins and ERA determine players' salaries.
With one third of the season now complete, let’s check in on the prominent starting pitchers on track to be first-time arbitration eligible this coming offseason:
Injuries have limited Jhoulys Chacin, Doug Fister, Marco Estrada, Chris Narveson and Neftali Feliz. All of these pitchers are on the disabled list, none of them are on pace to complete 150 innings, and three of them -- Estrada, Fister and Chacin -- remain winless.
Phil Humber and Tommy Hunter have stayed healthy, but they’re off to disappointing starts that include losing records and ERAs above 5.50. The homer-prone Hunter is pitching at Triple-A, and could soon be recalled. The collective bargaining recognizes special accomplishments, and Humber's perfect game definitely qualifies, so his representatives at Moye Sports Associates could play it up should the sides go to a hearing. Yet there's no clear conversion rate in place to help value Humber's perfecto.
Brian Matusz and Ross Detwiler both spent considerable time in the minor leagues last year, but they've responded with solid seasons to date. Both will head to arbitration with losing records, however, and Matusz's career ERA sits at 5.32.
Bud Norris, Ian Kennedy, Tommy Hanson, Mat Latos and, to a lesser extent, Mike Leake all entered the season with the bulk innings totals that often lead to generous salaries in arbitration. All five pitchers continue piling up innings, though Leake, Latos and Norris have ERAs above 4.50. The pitchers in this group figure to be compared against one another over and over this coming winter.
Former top prospects Jeff Samardzija and James McDonald (pictured) are enjoying breakout seasons. Both right-handers have career-best walk rates and are averaging one strikeout per inning. If they can keep this up -- or at least come reasonably close to doing so -- their paychecks will reflect the improvements in 2013 and beyond. Unfortunately for Samardzija, starters Rick Porcello and David Price didn't seem to be able to use their generous pre-arbitration salaries to boost their arbitration earnings this past offseason, so his current $2.64MM salary probably won't help much.
It's early enough for the fortunes of these pitchers to change dramatically. Feliz could return to the bullpen, Fister could replicate last year's second half success, or Samardzija could regress. But, ten-plus starts into the season, these pitchers' platform seasons have started taking shape.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire. Stats via Baseball-Reference.com. Note that Derek Holland and Jonathon Niese signed extensions covering what would have been their first arb years. Madison Bumgarner, Stephen Strasburg and Daniel Hudson are expected to fall just shy of super two eligibility, though that's not official.
6:31pm: Castro is "first on the list of players [the Cubs] won't trade," according to a team that recently spoke to the Cubs, reports Danny Knobler of CBS Sports. Knobler also says the Cubs have told teams that they will cover as much as $45MM of the approximately $48MM remaining on Soriano's contract if the outfielder is moved (Twitter link). At least one team has already expressed interest in Dempster, tweets ESPN's Buster Olney.
1:45pm: The Cubs are letting teams know that nearly every player except Jeff Samardzija is available in trades, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports. Some teams are already calling the 18-32 Cubs about potential deals.
"We're starting to get some early calls now," president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told Nightengale. "There might be fewer sellers than usual and a lot more buyers. This has a chance to help us. We need core players."
Starlin Castro could be obtained for two impact prospects, according to Nightengale. First baseman Bryan LaHair and starters Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster could also be acquired. The Cubs will contribute cash in a deal involving Alfonso Soriano, who earns $18MM per season through 2014.
Though Epstein's longtime team, the Red Sox, hasn't been a seller for years, Chicago GM Jed Hoyer was trading Major Leaguers for prospects as recently as last summer. He acquired Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin from the Rangers for Mike Adams in 2011 when he was the Padres' GM.
One way for teams to avoid building their rotations through free agency is to move relief pitchers to the starting rotation. Few relievers have the repertoire and durability to succeed in the rotation, but teams are understandably tempted by certain promising bullpen arms. After all, starters have the potential to limit the opposition for 180-200 innings, while relievers might pitch 60-70 innings.
The Rangers have successfully converted C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando to starting roles under Ron Washington and Mike Maddux in recent years, but some conversions don't work out quite as well. For example, Phil Coke and Kyle McClellan started the 2011 season in the rotation, before returning to relief roles.
Here’s an early season update on four pitchers who jumped from the ‘pen to the rotation this year. None of the pitchers below had started more than three MLB games in a season before 2012 and all of them were big league relievers last year:
- Daniel Bard - Bard's walk rate has spiked, his strikeout rate is down and he's generating fewer ground balls. His average fastball sits in the 93-94 mph range, down from 97.3 mph out of the bullpen, but he continues to generate swings and misses. A dropoff is expected from relievers who move to the rotation, and Bard showed promise against the White Sox last week.
- Neftali Feliz - Feliz's 3.81 ERA is a little deceptive. He has 18 strikeouts against 14 walks, partly because he's generating fewer swings and misses. He has also been lucky on balls in play, as his .194 opponents' BABIP indicates.
- Jeff Samardzija - The strikeouts are up, the walks are down and the peripheral numbers suggest this may well be sustainable. Samardzija's fastball continues to average 94.7 mph and batters are swinging and missing more than ever. So far, Samardzija's conversion has been a major success, especially relative to pre-season expectations. To his credit he has faced the Cardinals -- the NL's top offense -- twice.
- Chris Sale - Sale's transition to the rotation is going smoothly. Though his fastball velocity has dipped to 92.4 mph and his strikeout rate is down, he's limiting walks and averaging more than six innings per start.
Note: Though Lance Lynn, Anthony Bass and Felix Doubront pitched in relief last year, they also started in the minors for an extended period of time, so I don’t consider them converted relievers. Advanced stats via FanGraphs.
Tony La Russa's retirement has highlighted a busy day in the NL Central. Here are the latest notes from the division...
- Former Cardinals infielder David Eckstein told Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports that Albert Pujols would re-sign in St. Louis if the Cards make third base coach Jose Oquendo their next manager.
- Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan told Morosi that he’s going to return to St. Louis in 2012, but it doesn’t sound as though he’s looking to manage the team (Twitter link).
- The Cubs declined Jeff Samardzija's $3MM option for 2012, according to Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald (Twitter link). Samardzija isn't yet arbitration eligible and remains under team control.
- One person with ties to the Reds says there's "not a chance" Joey Votto becomes available this offseason, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com. The Reds control the first baseman's rights through 2013.
Aramis Ramirez, whose solo homer helped the Cubs beat the Reds tonight, will be looking for a multiyear deal this offseason. Here’s the latest from his division, with updates on his current club and the team that first signed him...
- There's no guarantee that Lance Berkman will be back in St. Louis next year, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes (on Twitter). Berkman has leverage, so a new deal is not a "slam dunk."
- For more on the Cardinals’ offseason plans, click here.
- The Cubs have held internal discussions about Jeff Samardzija as a candidate for the starting rotation, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. The Cubs have less rotation depth than they did earlier this year, as Wittenmyer explains. The right-hander has started five MLB games, but all 69 of his 2011 appearances have been in relief.
- Reds GM Walt Jocketty told Mark Sheldon of MLB.com that he doesn't want to discuss his contract, which expires after the 2011 season. "It's not for public consumption,” he said. “It's not worth commenting on it."
- MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes discussed the free agent prospects of Reds catcher Ramon Hernandez earlier today.
- The Pirates have notified their Venezuelan academy that they're going to end their lease and stop participating in the Venezuelan Summer League, according to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com. Pittsburgh will field two teams in the Dominican Summer League next year, however.
Some items of note out of the NL Central as players and reporters alike continue to trickle into Spring Training camps in Florida and Arizona ...
- Cardinals non-roster invitee Ian Snell, signed to a minor league deal, cited Redbirds pitching coach Dave Duncan as an incentive for him signing with St. Louis, writes Matthew Leach of MLB.com. Duncan, of course, is known for his penchant for helping down-on-their-luck pitchers get their careers back on track. Snell, who spent 2010 with the Mariners, has had a rough go of it since posting 14 wins with the Pirates back in 2006.
- Is Albert Pujols worth upwards of $30MM for as many as 10 years? That's the question examined at length by Tim Logan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The baseball community has made great strides in calculating how a player's performance translates to wins in recent years, but even still, it can be tough to pinpoint the connection between wins and return on investment (financially), Logan writes.
- Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija is out of minor league options, writes Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune, and is therefore all but assured of a roster spot (likely in the bullpen) coming out of Spring Training, lest he be exposed to waivers. Samardzija has been shuttled between the minors and Majors, as well as starting and relieving, since being drafted by the Cubs in the fifth round in 2006.
- Prince Fielder is probably hoping Pujols signs an extension before hitting free agency so that Fielder's market value isn't diminished next offseason, writes Bill Shaikin of the LA Times. Fielder is scheduled to become a free agent after this season, and with fewer teams in need of a premier first baseman as of now, he'll need all the leverage he can get, according to Shaikin.
The Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan writes that the Cubs have no plans to bring back Rich Harden, as alluded to by manager Lou Piniella. Prior to losing the final road game of the season to the San Francisco, Piniella ran down the 2010 rotation.
"You look at our starting pitching here for next year," Piniella said. "You've got (Carlos) Zambrano, you've got (Ryan) Dempster, you've got (Randy) Wells, you've got (Ted) Lilly, you've got (Tom) Gorzelanny, and you've got (Jeff) Samardzija...And if this kid keeps improving, he'll be right in the mix. So we've got six nice arms."
Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Piniella characterized the starting five as being "pretty settled." Wittenmyer feels that Gorzelanny has a leg up on Samardzija and Sean Marshall for the fifth slot.
Zambrano, despite his personal frustration, could once again be an elite pitcher. The 28-year-old ace is discouraged by his depressed win total, but still managed to post a 3.69 ERA with 8.0 K/9 - a marked improvement over his 6.2 K/9 in 2008. Lilly has had what you could call a career year at the age of 33, recording all-time bests with a 3.02 ERA and 4.21 K/BB ratio. Dempster's HR, BB and SO rates are in the neighborhood of where they were last year, when he garnered national attention. Wells put up a strong 3.18 ERA on the way to becoming the first Cubs rookie to notch 10 wins since Kerry Wood.
Are the Cubs in good enough shape to let Harden sign elsewhere without having to sift through the lackluster available starting pitchers? Let's hear your thoughts in the comments section.
Gordon Wittenmyer is reporting, via Twitter, that the Cubs have released Chad Gaudin and optioned Jeff Samardzija to AAA, giving the final two spots in their bullpen to Angel Guzman and Rule 5 pickup David Patton.
Gaudin, 26, came to the Cubs in the Rich Harden trade in 2008, but the league change was not kind to him. He posted a 6.26 ERA through 27.1 innings, though he did manage to fan 27 hitters as well. This Spring has been a disaster for Gaudin; he's allowed 19 ER through just 16.2 innings, while posting a 12:10 K:BB ratio and surrendering five long balls. The Rockies have shown some interest recently, though they chose to set their sights on Jason Hammel instead. Maybe not having to give anything up to acquire Gaudin will change their mind.
A few more links for Wednesday...
- Ryan Howard said a long-term deal with the Phillies would be "beautiful," for what it's worth.
- The New York Times' Ben Shpigel comments on the Aaron Heilman deal and its effect on new teammate Jeff Samardzija.
- Marty Noble of MLB.com learned that Mets GM Omar Minaya met with Pedro Martinez in the Dominican Republic today, but did not make an offer (and re-signing him remains a long shot).
- Yahoo's Tim Brown has the roundup on the Twins' hot stove happenings.
- Matthew Cerrone of MetsBlog.com takes on the Manny Ramirez-to-Mets conspiracy theorists.