The free agent group this offseason is loaded with power pitchers in Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, David Price, and the newest Detroit Tiger, Jordan Zimmermann. After the top-echelon pitchers are signed, everyone will look to their respective Plan B’s, starting with the likes of Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake, Scott Kazmir and Hisashi Iwakuma. They provide solid options for the second-tier buyers, but the money will be lacking for these players. The market for starting pitchers will most certainly start in the NL West. The Diamondbacks have already had an offer rejected by Johnny Cueto, and the Dodgers will have their hands full attempting to bring Greinke back to Los Angeles.
Samardzija is coming off of a down year with the Chicago White Sox, where he posted an unimpressive 4.96 ERA. Samardzija has proven to be a durable pitcher, throwing over 174 innings for the last four seasons. In 2014, Samardzija was an All-Star and split the season between the Cubs and Athletics. Ideally, Samardzija would prefer to be entering the free-agent market after a better year statistically. Since being traded to the AL, Samardzija’s ERA has risen and is a cause for concern amongst suitors. Entering the 2016 season, Samardzija will be turning 31 years old and time is limited on collecting a big contract. Instead of Samardzija providing the alternate option in 2015-16 for clubs, he may find it more beneficial to take a one-year contract and become the primary option for an organization in 2016-17.
In 2015, Samardzija made $9.8 million and will not command much of a raise in 2016. The San Diego Padres and Petco Park have always been a welcoming place for struggling pitchers. One season in San Diego will allow Samardzija to return to the NL and pitch in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. The Padres will have a vacant rotation spot this season with the departure of Ian Kennedy. In addition, it has been rumored that management is shopping ace James Shields. The staff could use the depth and experience of Samardzija, even if only for one season. He would be affordable on a one-year contract with a possible $12-13 million dollar deal. If the Padres are able to unload Shield’s $21 million dollar a year contract, it will allow more wiggle room to entice Samardzija for one season.
With the potential of a very strong season for Samardzija in San Diego, he will hit the free-agent market as one of the top pitchers available, if not the best available. The top-tier pitchers set to hit free agency after this season are Clay Buchholz, Jeremy Hellickson, Andrew Cashner and John Danks. The combination of age and better results in San Diego will surely start the bidding price at $90 million dollars for five years, in my estimation. Spending a successful season in the NL West will also increase the price from potential landing spots such as San Francisco, Arizona, Los Angeles, and Colorado.