Having finished as one of the runners-up in the Jose Quintana sweepstakes, the Astros are still looking to improve their rotation. That upgrade could come in the form of Giants right-hander Jeff Samardzija, on whom the Astros are “doing background work,” tweets Jon Morosi of MLB Network.
Samardzija, 32, would represent a potential multiyear piece for Houston, as he’s under control through 2020 on the five-year, $90MM contract he signed prior to the 2016 campaign. He’s still owed upward of $60MM, which would make him an especially costly acquisition for a Houston club whose biggest contract is the four-year, $52MM pact right fielder Josh Reddick signed before the season.
In the near term, Samardzija, who’s on pace for his fifth straight 200-inning season, would provide a mid-rotation workhorse to an Astros team that could use one. While the Astros easily own the American League’s best record (61-29) and have run away with the AL West, which they lead by 16.5 games, their rotation hasn’t been the picture of health this season. Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers have pitched like aces this year, but the former has hit the disabled list twice with neck issues and the latter has been on the DL once and, over the past month-plus, has struggled to go deep in games. Charlie Morton has also missed extensive time this year, and injuries have troubled him throughout his career, while Collin McHugh hasn’t pitched at all and Joe Musgrove hasn’t been sharp after a strong major league debut last season. Fortunately for the Astros, Keuchel and McHugh are nearing returns, while Brad Peacock and Mike Fiers have stepped up since Keuchel’s DL placement in early June.
Despite the myriad issues in their rotation, including David Paulino’s season-ending performance-enhancing drug suspension, Astros starters entered Saturday atop the AL in ERA (3.86) and third in fWAR (8.2). Samardzija has accounted for 2.3 fWAR, making him one of the majors’ most valuable starters in that metric’s estimation, but the hard thrower hasn’t prevented runs at a pristine rate. Through 118 innings this year, he carries a 4.58 ERA, largely thanks to a career-worst home run-to-fly ball rate (16.7 percent), an elevated batting average on balls in play (.323) and a low strand rate (67.1 percent). Going from pitcher-friendly AT&T Park in San Francisco to Houston’s Minute Maid Park likely wouldn’t do his already high homer rate any favors, though his sparkling K/BB ratio (9.07) – which is No. 1 among major league starters – could help lead to somewhat of a turnaround in the ERA department.
While the Astros may push to acquire Samardzija, it’s unclear whether the Giants would trade him or whether Houston is one of the eight teams he’d block a move to. Giants executive vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean revealed earlier this week that the out-of-contention club is “open for business” as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline nears, but he also plans to vie for a playoff berth in 2018. As such, the Giants could prefer to keep Samardzija in their quest to return to relevance next year.