Is Samardzija Worth Watching?

There’s a lot of talk as to which role would best fit the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija.  Should he be stretched out for the rotation?  Is he best suited to be a power arm at the back of the bullpen?

As probably the favorite in the NL Central, you’d think the Cubs rotation was pretty well set, meaning the team would be better off utilizing his talents in the bullpen.  He was successful there last season after his recall, posting an ERA of 2.28 over 27.2 innings.

The thing is, those numbers are a little bit skewed.  He was nearly unhittable in August, giving up just 10 hits and 0 earned runs over 14.1 innings pitched.  He then struggled a bit in September, posting an ERA of 5.40 over 8.1 innings.  He allowed 10 runs, though only 5 were earned.  It wasn’t just one or two bad outing either, giving up runs in 5 of his 10 appearances.

The Cubs also seem to be pretty set at the back of their bullpen, even with the departure of Kerry Wood.  Carlos Marmol has established himself as one of the best late inning pitchers in the game, and the team also imported Marlins closer Kevin Gregg to help replace Wood.

There are some question marks after that, but that’s a very good start.  As for the rotation?  It is no perfect situation either.

Yes, the team is solid in the top three slots, with Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly & Ryan Dempster safely entrenched there.  The hope was to have Rich Harden also among the top few starters, but he’s always a question mark to even take the mound.  Of course, the news going around now is that he has a slight tear in his shoulder, which could ultimately require surgery.  Shocking, right?

The addition of Aaron Heilman just clouds the situation further as his role is just as questionable as Samardzija’s.  His desire to start is well known, but will the Cubs give him that opportunity or share the Mets view that his best value comes in relief?

The rumors I’ve heard is that the Cubs will allow both Samardzija and Heilman to compete for the fifth rotation spot.  Other names who could be in the mix include Sean Marshall and Chad Gaudin.  If Harden is forced to the DL and misses any significant time, the Cubs will need two pitchers for the rotation and another as a long reliever in the bullpen, just in case.

Where is the depth at that point?  I know, the rumors are out there that the team will now attempt to reopen negotiations with the Padres to acquire Jake Peavy, and if that were to happen the debate on what role to use Samardzija would be moot.  I’m not going to assume that’s going to happen, especially after the on-again off-again negotiations to acquire Brian Roberts last season ended up developing into nothing.

I’m not saying that I think the Cubs should use him as a starter, but I think they should at least consider it, meaning he could ultimately have value for your fantasy roster in 2009.  The former fifth round draft choice pitched extremely well last season in a short-stint for the Iowa Cubs, the team’s Triple A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League.

In 6 starts (37.1 innings) he went 4-1 with a 3.13 ERA and 1.29 WHIP.  He struck out 40 while walking just 16.

Considering the league, those are sparkling numbers, but we can’t forget that he was far from impressive at Double A last season, posting a 4.86 ERA and walking 42 batters over 76.0 innings.  His career minor league ERA is 4.26 and his WHIP is 1.46 over 285 innings.

Did he turn a corner towards the end of last season?  Baseball America says that, “After Samardzija absorbed changes to his delivery and started turning his stuff loose, he took off.”  That’s certainly something that is very positive, though they also say “Slowing down his delivery has enabled him to pitch more under control, but it costs him deception and one scout said it puts more stress on his shoulder.”

Basically, we don’t know exactly what to expect from the 24-year old, and with the question surrounding his role out there, I certainly wouldn’t use a draft choice on him unless you compete in extremely deep leagues or leagues that value middle relievers.  Otherwise, my advice is to simply monitor him during the spring and see where he settles in for the Cubs.  If he ultimately finds his way into the rotation, he certainly could be worth snatching off the waiver wire, given the high-powered offense he’ll have behind him.

What do you think the Cubs will do with him?  Would you gamble on him if he finds his way into the rotation?

Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *