In my mind, there is no more interesting free-agent case this winter to watch than that of Jeff Samardzija. The tall right-hander out of Notre Dame was content to play out the 2015 season on a one-year deal with an eye on testing free agency. Max Scherzer made a similar bet on himself before the 2015 season, and it paid off with a $210 million dollar deal with the Washington Nationals. Samardzija’s bet was not nearly so successful. A year removed from a season in which he posted a 2.99 ERA in 33 starts and made his first All-Star appearance, Samardzija went 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA. The former wide receiver allowed the most hits and home runs in the league, while seeing his strikeout rate drop to a career-low 6.9 per nine.
Not exactly the best way to a make a case for yourself as a $20 million per year pitcher. Still, Samardzija has the potential to be a big-time ace. He did lead the league in shutouts, with two. On April 29, Samardzija started against the Baltimore Orioles and allowed seven earned runs in five innings. Two months later, on July 4, against the same Orioles team, he allowed three hits and only one run in 7.2 innings. Samardzija threw one of the worst games of the year on September 15, allowing 10 earned runs in only three innings to the Oakland A’s. The very next start, he threw a one-hitter against the Detroit Tigers, which was followed up with seven innings of two-run ball against the Kansas City Royals.
It’s clear Samardzija has the potential to be a very good pitcher in the league. Even in a down year, he still managed to complete 214 innings. Samardzija is a workhorse, and does not have a ton of wear and tear on his arm thanks to his college football days. Despite the pedestrian numbers in 2015, someone is going to take the bait and sign him to a long-term deal.
One team that should really take a long, hard look at Samardzija is the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite what the record would indicate, the Phillies are not that far away from being a good team. The 99-loss season was the worst for the Phillies since 2000. The Phillies were 29-62 at the All-Star break, but followed that up with a 34-37 second half. After being outscored by 160 runs in the first half, Philadelphia was outscored by only 23 runs over their final 71 games. Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, and Freddy Galvis all showed flashes of potential greatness. Starting pitchers Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff seem to have the makings of a good one-two punch in the future. The Phillies also landed a slew of prospects in the Cole Hamels deal. The rebuilding process really may not be that far away from wrapping up. As the Houston Astros showed this year, when the light goes on for a core of young players, it goes on very quickly, and sometimes without warning.
Next year is probably not the year for the Phillies, but it does not feel like a stretch to say that in two years the team could be on the fringes of playoff contention. Philadelphia has a good group of young players, and solid positional prospects. What the team is really lacking is quality big league starting pitching. Jerome Williams, Aaron Harang, and David Buchanan started games this year for the Phillies because, well, somebody had to do it. The time has come for the Phillies to consider making minor additions through free agency, something the team has not done the past few years as the tearing down process commenced.
Jeff Samardzija is an interesting name for the Phillies to think about taking a chance on. Samardzija could be viewed as a lottery ticket for the Phillies. A move back to the National League would likely benefit him. Even if Samardzija never really blossoms into an ace, he will still give the Phillies 200 relatively solid innings per season. Philadelphia’s young position players are not that far away from being ready to win, but if the rotation is full of retreads like Williams and Harang, that won’t matter. Samardzija has the upside to be intriguing to the Phillies, and can take the load off the young arms of Nola and Eickhoff.
With only one more season of Ryan Howard‘s contract/lead anchor to deal with, the time has come for the Phillies to begin dabbling in free agency, slowly but surely. Samardzija is an intriguing candidate for the Phillies. He is by no means a lock to go 18-5 with a 2.50 ERA, but he will slot into a rotation with a ton of holes and deliver 200 respectable innings. Andy MacPhail has a lot on his plate as his first offseason in Philadelphia begins. The new head of the organization should take a long hard look at Jeff Samardzija.