Samardzija "open to extension," what should he be offered?

Inking a contract extension to Jeff Samardzija has been a looming unfulfilled achievement in this otherwise sea-change White Sox offseason. Despite being an entirely unrelated action, securing Samardzija's services for an extended period of time is what is supposed to make sending a prospect package--albeit, not a very strong one--make sense. It's not necessarily that the price is too high, it's that the 2015 White Sox are not a super team, so moves that only benefit this coming year would be...not the best. 

Of course, if Samardzija was easily reeled for a long-term deal, he wouldn't be on the White Sox right now. Back when he had less leverage, and less track record, Samardzija reportedly turned down deals in the range of five years for $55 million and five years for $85 million. Now, after the Cubs have given up and dealt him, and now that he's a hop, skip and a jump away from free agency, and coming off a career year that actually backed up all the hype around him for the past few years (219.2 innings, 202 K, 43 BB, 2.99 ERA while splitting time in Oakland and Chicago), the Sox have to try to step in and negotiate.

Samardzija's agent, Mark Rodgers, was magnanimous enough to go on MLB Network and confirm that his client would be open to the Sox overpaying him. Scott Merkin excerpted the good.

Out of due respect to [White Sox chairman] Mr. [Jerry] Reinsdorf and to [general manager] Rick Hahn, who’s done a heck of a job, and [executive vice president] Kenny Williams, I told those guys, ‘Any time you want to talk, I’ll listen. Jeff and I will certainly talk.’
— Mark Rodgers

It's not the biggest submission from an agent who has been dutifully dragging his agent to free agent payday and is ohhhh so close, and he spent more staking out his position.

He’s got Cy Young-type stuff to win 20 games, strike out 230-240 guys in 220 innings and just have a monster year. So to talk about what his value is in free agency a year early would really do him injustice because I think there’s more to come, better to come for Jeff.
— Mark Rodgers

Better to be courting a player whose agent is talking about things their player has never done than things he hasn't done in a while, but the Samardzija camp has been courting top tier starter money for a while, and there can't be any discounts now. Not to draw a direct comparison, but it would be interesting to see what James Shields signs at and sets the 'Not an ace, but your top starter if your pitching staff is bad' market for.

As a long-term investment, Samardzija has to be commanding a lot of confidence from a scouting perspective to draw the money he's asking. He's been flashing hurricane stuff for the past three seasons, but has only offered a year of above-average results. Guys who flash great stuff and can't string good seasons as starters together are often referred to as "closers." 

Samardzija's best work in 2014 unsurprisingly came in Chicago (108 IP, 2.83 ERA, 103 K, 31 BB) before the shift to the AL (111.2 IP, 3.14 ERA, 99 K, 12 BB). A significant statistical sample isn't coming, but it would be instructive to see him survive the move to a hitter's park against AL competition. It's worth remembering, though, that elite pitching seasons don't just roll off the assembly sign. Scherzer cashed in after just two in a row. Franchise-savior Jon Lester wasn't anywhere near his 2014 production in the two seasons prior. Pitching machines either don't exist, or don't make it to free agency, or teams have to see a progression in their recent work that merits buying into.

The key to Samardzija big step forward was removing some of the electricity. He pounded the zone with more frequency, he kept the ball down, and scissored his walk rate down to a fraction of the problems that plagued his earlier career. Last year's performance took on the look of a refined product than the pack of raw stuff. The White Sox obviously jumped at Samardzija because they sought better value than Scherzer and saw better talent and fit than Shields. With a repeat season, Samardzija could easily wind up between them.

At this point, with an untrained eye for the market and piece of scrap paper covered in scribbles in my pocket, I would imagine the AAV for Samardzija starts at $20 million and goes up depending and how far you want to walk down from six years guaranteed. The possibility of offering a four-year deal that possibly allows for one last bite at the free agency apple before the hostile winds of aging and death tear away at his flesh, but if he was interested in such a compromise, he might have been more interested in making something work with the Cubs...if they weren't lowballing him, that is. It's frankly hard to see the Sox moving either way. They traditionally avoid huge outlays for pitchers, and cost-suppressed deals for homegrown products have been the only breaks away from that principle. But without an extension, this would be an even rarer short-term and reckless Rick Hahn move. Whichever pattern of behavior remains unbroken, is probably the ruling school of thought for the near future.


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