On Thursday we looked at the teams that aren’t on Jeff Samardzija’s no-trade list. It’s unlikely that any of them would swing a deal, but it’s not impossible. If the Giants were just going to give him away, there would be teams that are happily willing to take him.
But the Giants aren’t going to give him away. They signed him when he led the AL in earned runs, by gosh, and they’re going to stick with him when he leads the NL in losses. He’ll probably throw more than 200 innings this year, and he still has that league-best strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s still a pitcher to dream on, somehow, and the Giants would spend their money on someone similar in the offseason if they didn’t have Samardzija.
If you’re keen on dumping Samardzija for salary relief, ask yourself what you think the Giants would spend the savings on. It would be Marco Estrada or someone like that. Which isn’t necessarily the worst solution, but the Giants wouldn’t want to swap out starting pitchers like that unless there was something in it for them.
In other words, what kind of return would make a Jeff Samardzija trade sensible for the Giants?
We need to remember a few things:
Rule #1: Remember that the Giants aren’t rebuilding
They’re reloading. They aren’t going to want more Heliots Ramos. They’re going to want prospects who can contribute next year. If it’s a pitcher who can step in and at least be Ty Blach, that’s even better.
Rule #2: The Giants aren’t interested in a salary dump
That means they want prospects, real prospects, not just a token 25-year-old starting pitcher who would allow them to foist Samardzija’s contract on someone else.
Rule #3: The system is thin in upper-level pitching, which seems bad
Tyler Beede has been erratic all year, and he isn’t missing bats. Chris Stratton hasn’t progressed. Joan Gregorio got suspended for PEDs. If it weren’t for Blach holding his own and Andrew Suarez steadily progressing, this entire season would be a disaster.
Even then, we have some idea of what Blach’s ceiling is, and Suarez is a 24-year-old who is still having a rough adjustment to Triple-A. These are not future All-Stars, most likely.
That means if I had to guess what the Giants were looking for in a trade for Samardzija, it would be a mash-up of all three of those. To even consider the deal, the Giants would probably want a legitimate pitching prospect who could step into the rotation immediately for a September looksee. While teams don’t usually target a specific position in a deal — they mostly just want the best possible package, and it’s not like the Giants would refuse any helpful young outfielders — the team’s stated desire to try again in 2018 and pretend like this mess never happened complicates things.
For example, let’s say the Nationals really want Samardzija. They’re scared about Stephen Strasburg’s injury in this scenario, and they want to make sure they get innings out of their starters, which would allow them to use their bullpen less. They have one pitcher who would fit this description, Erick Fedde. I’m not sure if that would be enough for the Giants, or if he would be close enough to the majors to make them feel comfortable that he could be a Samardzija replacement.
This brings us to the most important point of all: I’m pretty sure the Nationals wouldn’t want to trade Fedde for Samardzija and take all of the salary back. That goes for any of the prospects the Giants might want in a reloading project, including outfielders. The other teams wouldn’t want to trade them for an expensive starting pitcher, even if he fills a specific need.
In other words, the Giants can have two of the three. They can get a real prospect, and they can get someone who helps out next year, but they can’t do it if they’re not helping out with Samardzija’s contract. Or they can unload the contract, but they shouldn’t expect a grade-A or maybe even a grade-B prospect. Or they might get a prospect with star potential, but he’ll be in the lower minors, years away from helping a team.
Which means the Giants probably aren’t trading Samardzija. We knew that. This is just another way of saying it.
I could be wrong, and the Giants could be very much interested in giving the salary to someone else and starting over before a free agent class that includes Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb, especially if they weren’t planning financially for Johnny Cueto to opt into the rest of his contract. I’ll take them at their word, though, and assume they really want to keep Samardzija.
That’s going to make a deal difficult, and I think they’re fine with that.