The assumption as the trade deadline approaches is that the Cleveland Indians need starting pitching. I’m not going to sit here and say that another healthy arm wouldn’t have been helpful for them last October, and of course it’s always good to have more starting pitching. But there comes a point when Carlos Carrasco won’t be so snakebit, and maybe Danny Salazar’s yearly break will give him extra gas for autumn games.
All teams need arms, and as much as I love Ryan Merritt’s name, it’s not ideal to have him start an ALCS game again. The chatter for a trade target is around Sonny Gray of course, because he’s still young, having a good year, and is available. But he’s expensive, because of that young thing. You know who’s not expensive? Guys over thirty. You know who’s over 30? Jeff Samardzija. The Indians should get that messy-named man.
To start with, the San Francisco Giants stink this year, and have very little coming down the pipeline as a light for the future. Their top farmhand is rated somewhere in the 90s in all of baseball among most prospect lists.
Desperation breeds rash moves, and as much past glory as the Giants have to wallow in, as much fun as Buster Posey is to watch as he finishes casting his Cooperstown bust, you can’t be an aging team in a big time baseball city in a division getting younger and better. Especially when your arch rival has built a potential juggernaut. The Giants are on an accidental path to find the bottom very quickly, and the San Diego Padres are already full steam in front of them. For this reason alone, a hoodwinking could be in order.
As for the actual pitcher, Samardzija is now two years removed from a hideous season that saw him give up more home runs than anyone in the National League and more hits and earned runs than anyone in baseball. Outside of that season, though, Samardzija has only one year with an FIP over 3.77, only one with a strikeout rate under 23 percent, and this year he’s walking 2.3 percent of batters. Put this all together, he’d be the third best pitcher on the Indians this year, and breathing down Carrasco’s neck. All this to say, if we’re going to toss out a year of a pitcher’s career as with Gray, why not Samardjiza?
He’s also started doing two things more often than in recent years that make me curious. For one, he’s gotten back to featuring his sinker nearly as much as he did when he was an All-Star in 2014 with a 2.99 ERA, 3.20 FIP, was worth 4.1 fWAR, and helped the Chicago Cubs hoodwink the A’s out of Addison Russell.
Check it out:
That year where he threw the fewest sinkers also happened to be the year he spent with the Chicago White Sox, and was very terrible. Those days have passed it seems.
Also, he’s started throwing a curveball. I like curveballs. Several Indians pitchers throw dirty curves, to the point I’m convinced it’s an organizational focus. Samardzija is throwing one 12.3 percent of the time, and by both of FanGraphs’ Pitch Values ratings, its a major plus for him. I find it to be a valuable, and woefully underused pitch. He would fit in very well with the Tribe staff and Mickey Callaway.
The only real thing that worries me is his base-hit rate is the highest of his career at 9.5 per nine innings, but the collapse of his walk rate is encouraging, along with the sinker usage. While he’s not getting the ideal plus-50 percent grounder rate, the 42.8 percent this year is manageable, especially now that Bradley Zimmer is a thing. Plus he’s pounding the zone, throwing a strike a career high 47.7 percent of the time. Kind of a reverse Clevinger, allowing soft contact (career high 23 percent of batted balls) and not allowing free passes. Allows for duality in the rotation. Or something. Balance in all things, you know?
If a deal must be made to bolster the rotation (it couldn’t hurt), then it should involve Samardzija. We could even resurrect the nickname Scrabbles from Marc Rzepczynski, and spike the of frustration by my editors by spelling it a different way every time. But really, Samardzija is an effective pitcher that would help the team immensely as it makes a stretch run. Worst case scenario, he repeats 2015 and is about as bad as Josh Tomlin is anyway.
Whether the Indians feel like eating $60 million in salary for a 32-year old is the real question. Ownership ponied up for Edwin Encarnacion, and the need of a Lindor extension still looms. But the cost of keeping the future together must be weighed with the present chance of hanging a flag. Ask Kansas City Royals fans - that pennant isn’t going anywhere, and next year could be anything.
Perhaps a Triston McKenzie could waylay some of the expense of Samardzija, or a Brady Aiken to go with the speedy Greg Allen could be enough potential to get some cash with the pitcher There’s a move to be made here. It’s a need fits need, though one (the Giants) needs the other more. That works in the Tribe’s favor. That makes it a good deal.