Shark is enjoying an incredible season thus far, adding a bit of sunshine to what has been at times, an awfully depressing season. The Cubs might be the worst team in baseball, but they have the leagues best pitcher... if ERA is what you go on (more on this later). It's not surprising that the better Samardzija pitches, the louder the cries to extend him. The fanbase growing increasingly frustrated with the lousy records, the length of time the rebuilding project is taking, and the perception that ownership is unwilling to spend.
But is extending Shark really the right thing to do? I'm not so sure. Here are five reasons why trading Shark might be the best thing the franchise can do to jumpstart the trek to a WS championship.
1) He's not this good.
Look at the skills supporting Samardzija's glossy ERA. They show a pitcher who is essentially at the same level he's always been. His XFIP in 2012 was 3.35. In 2013, 3.45. So far in 2014, its 3.48. According to Fangraphs, he appears to be throwing his two seamer a lot more frequently and effectively this year. It's always been a good pitch for him when he's on. The cost has been fewer K's. But he benefits from fewer walks as well.
In general, this is a good thing. Samardzija's velocity is still fine. He's pitching smart, and that should reduce the frequency of "Bad Shark" outings. I believe he still has the ability to punch out batters when he needs to, he just hasn't needed to? That's where a look at the underlying stats shows how lucky he has been. 82% of runners stranded, 3.9 HR/FB, .264 BABIP. All levels which seem to be unsustainable.
2) The rebuild has been pushed back.
We can complain about it all we want and blame TheoJed or ownership, but it doesn't change the facts. Baez is striking out at an alarming rate, Soler's progress has been hampered by injuries. This is no reason to give up on those players; Baez is still the youngest hitter in AAA. But it does mean that the cavalry might be later arriving than we'd hoped. This year's draft class does not look particularly promising, with the stud college arms the Cubs need succumbing to TJS. It looks increasingly like the best pick is either a position player or a HS arm.
Allowing for 500 AB's at AAA (which Epstein has stated he prefers for a prospect) along with expected growing pains and the first year the new wave of prospects can start to make an MLB impact is 2016. And by "impact" I simply mean that they are at least up and somewhat holding their own. The first year the Cubs might actually look like they've turned the corner and semi-contend is likely 2017.
At that point, Samardzija will have another 400-450 IP under his belt, bringing his career totals over 1000 IP. He'll also be 32. That's about the expected lifespan of a major league pitcher. That isn't to say there's no way Samardzija stays effective, merely that at that point he becomes a risky proposition.
3) There are other pitchers.
If Samardzija wants market value, it makes little economic sense to extend him. That's what market value means-- you're not getting a break. You're not getting screwed, but it's not helping you either. He's the same value as every other FA pitcher.
The problem here is that the Cubs already have Shark. Keeping him would just be maintaining the status quo. On the other hand, Shark could be traded which would yield a bumper crop of prospects. Then the Cubs could sign another FA for market value, say Scherzer. Any FA comes with the same risks that extending Shark does (namely that they typically have a lot of innings and are on the downside of their peak).
Assuming that the Cubs need to sign a free agent pitcher to a big contract, Samardzija would have to be much better than other FA alternatives. The stats show that he isn't. If Samardzija wants market value, he's essentially just another FA. Which would you rather have-- Samardzija, or Sharkalike + 2-3 top prospects?
It's even possible "Sharkalike" could end up being Shark himself. It's possible he intends to test the FA market regardless of whether he is traded or not. This would make him an FA in 2016. The Cubs picture might be quite a bit rosier by then, and perhaps he'll remember the good times he had here and decide to finish out his career here. Or maybe not. But the odds/cost of signing Shark are unlikely to be worse than they are now. Worst case scenario is we have zero chance of signing him either way.
4) Simple economics
Samardzija's cost-controlled 2014 and 2015 years means little to the Cubs as they won't contend. It has a TON of value to anyone looking to win a championship in that window.
Conversely, the years 2016 and beyond have a premium value to the Cubs as that is when the window opens (hopefully never to be shut again). For teams contending now and believers of the "flags fly forever" philosophy, those years are comparatively devalued.
Thus, there should be an easy deal to be made with any number of teams and possibly even the chance at starting a bidding war.
5) Shark's value will never be higher
Looking at the typical lifespan of a pitcher, Samardzija is likely at his career peak. On top of that, he's enjoying flukishly great luck. And on top of that, he's now getting quite a bit of publicity as the awesome but luckless pitcher toiling away for an awful franchise and imagine what he could do for a good team. It's free advertising. If there was ever a time where a team might be suckered into to paying way too high a price it has to be now.
Am I actually saying that I would be angry if Samardzija was extended? No. I like Shark. He is one of my favorite Cubs players for the way he's improved himself over the years. I'd love to see him be a one-team only guy. And like everyone else, I'm tired of watching the team lose. But emotions aside, I have to admit it makes a lot of sense to trade him. If he's not going to give the team a hometeam discount, you almost have to do it. Which brings me to the pseudo-sixth point.
6) Trust TheoJed.
They've made a lot of mistakes, but trading SP assets has been one of their stronger points. Cashner->Rizzo has worked out pretty well. But for some Dempster weirdness, they would have landed Teheran from the Braves which at the time most felt was a steal. The return for Garza has been good. So good that Jon Daniels himself has indicated he might have given up too much. It's also important to note that both pitchers have been disappointing since they left. So IF Epstein and Hoyer decide it's time to pull the trigger on a Samardzija trade, instead of throwing a ragefit perhaps they deserve the benefit of doubt.
That's all I got. I know it's an unpopular opinion. Like Camus' Mersualt, I now await your howls of execration.