As Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com reports, the Astros are “doing background work” on Giants right-hander Jeff Samardzija as a potential trade candidate.
There’s been speculation since the winter that Houston would look to add a veteran starter in order to boost their playoff push this year. During the early part of the season, it looked like Houston’s rotation would easily be able to survive without any reinforcements, as Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. got off to spectacular starts.
But with Collin McHugh having spent the entire season on the disabled list, Keuchel having been on the DL since June 8, Joe Musgrove laboring through his second MLB season, and McCullers seemingly wearing down as the season goes on, it looks like Houston would be well-served to add another starter before the deadline.
With Jose Quintana already having been dealt to the Cubs and Sonny Gray being coveted by several different contending clubs, it seems that teams will dig deep to try and find controllable starting pitchers at the deadline this season. For that reason, Samardzija could end up being a rather attractive commodity despite the fact that he doesn’t have an exceptionally great track record.
On the surface, Samardzija hasn’t had a great year, as he’s posted a 4.58 ERA while allowing 1.4 homers per nine innings over 18 starts. But there are plenty of reasons to be intrigued; Samardzija has 127 strikeouts and just 14 walks through 118 innings, and he’s thrown six or more innings in 15 of his 18 starts this season. According to FanGraphs’ WAR calculation, he’s the sixth-most valuable starter in the National League with a 2.3 fWAR.
The problem is that Samardzija has pretty much been the same pitcher for his entire career. He’s 32 years old now and has spent 10 seasons in the majors, working primarily as a starter for seven of them, and he has a 4.09 career ERA while allowing exactly one home run per nine innings. His stuff is lethal, and to his credit, his command has gotten better as the years have gone on, but he’s never figured out how to avoid putting the ball in hitters’ sweet spots.
With that said, if there’s one GM who would be likely to take a chance on Samardzija despite his lack of tangible results over the years, it would be Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. Over the winter, Luhnow and the Astros gave 33-year-old right-hander Charlie Morton, who had posted a 4.54 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over nine major-league seasons, to a two-year deal worth $14 million, largely based on a positive strikeout-to-walk ratio and the fact that he had experienced an uptick in velocity with the Phillies during the 2016 season. The gamble on Morton has largely paid off, as he’s been a dependable back-of-the-rotation starter this year, and it’s easy to see them taking the same type of chance on Samardzija.
Samardzija certainly holds more value than rental pitchers because he’s under contract through 2020, though his $19.8 million yearly salary may be concerning to some payroll-conscious clubs. While he’s been a stabilizing presence in their rotation over the past year-and-a-half, San Francisco seems to be looking to reduce payroll a bit and get younger heading into 2018, so they surely wouldn’t mind shedding his contract, especially since they seem high on Triple-A starters Tyler Beede and Andrew Suarez.
If Houston is willing to take on the remainder of Samardzija’s contract in a potential deal, the Giants would probably be hard-pressed to get one of Houston’s most highly-coveted prospect back for him. But the Astros have one of the deepest farm systems in the majors, so some of their more advanced prospects who are blocked long-term by the team’s current major-leaguers—including Teoscar Hernandez, Colin Moran, J.D. Davis, Jason Martin, and A.J. Reed, to name a few—may be of intrigue to the Giants as they seek to add some younger position players to the organization.