Born and raised in the quaint town of Valparaiso, Indiania, 28 year old Cubs righthander Jeff Samardzija is as All-American Midwestern as it gets. He’s spent his whole life there, earning All-American honors at wide receiver for Notre Dame, and playing his entire major league career in Chicago, “The Heart of America.” Now, though, with Samardzija unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension with the Cubs, it seems as if he’ll have to leave the heartland for America’s hinterland – Canada. , Matt Snyder of CBS Sports recently reported that Jeff Samardzija has a “99% chance” of being traded and in all likelihood his destination will be the Toronto Blue Jays.
A relatively young starter with above average stuff and excellent peripherals will have many suitors, particularly with the free agent prices as bloated as they are, but what sets the Blue Jays apart is that they deal in the one thing the Cubs lack, young pitching.
According to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, the top six prospects in the Blue Jays’ system are all starting pitchers, three of whom – Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, and Marcus Stroman – rank in the top 100 prospects in all of baseball. The Cubs’ by contrast have no pitching prospects in the game’s top 100 and the best pitching prospect in their system is Arodys Vizcaino, a reliever who hasn’t thrown a professional pitch since 2011. There’s no young talent on the major league roster for Chicago either, as the youngest starter in their 2013 rotation was 27 year old Chris Rusin, a former no-name prospect with a 4.78 FIP over 20 career major league starts.
There is certainly the framework for a deal here, with Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos sacrificing a few young arms for the chance to get Samardzija and boost the Jays’ lackluster rotation. The question is simply which arms and how many.
Since Cubs President Theo Epstein has a wealth of high-ceiling talent at the lower levels of his farm system and is reportedly looking to make moves that could allow him to contend quickly, he will probably ask for pitchers closer to the majors. This leaves out Roberto Osuna, who’s only 18 and probably at least three years away (The Cubs would certainly love to have him, just not as a centerpiece). Instead, a deal could be centered around 22 year old Marcus Stroman, who dominated Double-A in 2013 en route to being named baseball’s 91st overall prospect by MLB.com, 23 year old Sean Nolin, a near future mid-rotation lefty with a 2.77 ERA in AAA, and 23 year old John Stilson, a classic hardball Texan who could start but rolled through the minors as a reliever in 2013. Daniel Norris, 20, also has the talent and the proximity to the majors to be included in the deal, although it would be in lieu of one of the aforementioned players
The one major obstacle in negotiations could be the Blue Jays’ number one prospect and current 20th overall prospect Aaron Sanchez. In his fastball and curve, Sanchez has two of the best pitches in all of minor league baseball and is the most valuable trading chip in Toronto’s system. That being said, after the loss of fellow elite righthander Noah Syndergaard to the Mets in last offseason’s R.A. Dickey deal, Anthopolus may be wary of moving another potential ace. If Epstein insists on Sanchez’s inclusion in the deal, a trade may not be possible.
In an interview with MLB Network Radio on monday, Alex Anthopoulos refused to comment on any specific players, trades, or rumors. He only said one thing, “we’re going to earmark most of our money for starting pitching.” With the Blue Jays priced out of any of the major free agents, Samardzija could be that starter.