2:27pm: Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun adds to the story, reporting that the Cubs had one of their top talent evaluators — one who is not typically assigned to low-level minor league games — present at one of Harvey’s most recent start for Class-A Delmarva.
Connolly asked Orioles executive VP Dan Duquette about the timeline for trades, and Duquette replied by pointing out that the team just made a trade to acquire Nick Hundley this weekend. Duquette added that he and his staff are constantly talking to other teams, though naturally, he declined to comment on Samardzija specifically.
Of course, as Connolly points out, even if the O’s are being aggressive, it doesn’t necessarily behoove the Cubs to deal early. They could potentially extract more from a deal by getting other teams involved in the bidding to drive up the eventual return.
10:42am: While we’re still more than two months from the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, multiple sources have indicated to Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago that the Orioles are the “leading team of interest” in the early stages of the Jeff Samardzija sweepstakes. According to Levine, there’s mutual interest between the two teams, which isn’t surprising given the Orioles’ wealth of young pitching.
Baltimore has built up a strong crop of top-tier pitching prospects in the form of Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Hunter Harvey (who, as a 2013 draftee, is ineligible to be dealt until after this year’s draft) and Eduardo Rodriguez. Each of those players ranked inside the game’s top 61 prospects, per Baseball Prospectus. While Harvey didn’t crack the Top 100 lists of Baseball America or MLB.com, the other three are all present on those lists as well. That crop makes the O’s a particularly logical trading partner for the Cubs, who are stocked with high-end hitting prospects in their well-regarded farm system but lack potential high-impact arms.
Those names might seem a steep price to pay for Orioles fans, but it’s likely that the Cubs would ask for two from that list, in my opinion. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently reported that the Cubs asked for Drew Hutchison and one of Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez from the Blue Jays this winter, and that was before Samardzija got off to the best start of his career.
The 29-year-old Samardzija ranks second only to Adam Wainwright with a 1.68 ERA among qualified starters (Wainwright, at 1.67, has only been nominally better in terms of ERA). He’s racked up 75 innings while averaging 7.7 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 to go along with a career-best 51 percent ground-ball rate. The Chicago ace is affordable, as he’s earning just $5.35MM after avoiding arbitration last winter, and he’s controllable through the 2015 season. Sabermetric estimators agree that Samardzija’s start has been outstanding, with FIP pegging him at 2.79 and xFIP estimating 3.27.
Last summer, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer and president Theo Epstein were able to extract a package of C.J. Edwards (now the game’s No. 28 ranked prospect, per BA), Mike Olt, Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez for two months of Matt Garza. It seems logical that Chicago’s front office will look to exceed that package in order to deal a pitcher with more team control that is off to a better start and comes with far less injury concern than the one they traded away last summer.
Baltimore currently sits just 3.5 games back in the AL East, thanks largely to the team’s offense. Orioles starters have combined for a 4.57 ERA this season, which ranks 25th in the Majors.