2015 Statistics: 214 IP, 4.96 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 6.86 K/9, 2.06 BB/9, 1.22 HR/9, 1.29 WHIP, 2.7 fWAR
2016 Age: 31
Position: Right-handed starting pitcher
With starting pitching one of the only positions on the roster the Yankees might look to improve in free agency, it wouldn't be far-fetched for fans to expect New York to take a long look at Jeff Samardzija. While he's a couple seasons removed from being close to an elite pitcher in the league, he's still got a promising repertoire and would provide the durability that the Yankees rotation has been lacking over the past few years. However, it's unlikely the Yankees will add "Shark," since he'd actually be a bit redundant considering the makeup of their pitching staff - oh, and there's the small fact that he may already have an offer for $100 million. Yeah...someone else can deal with that.
Samardzija came up with the Chicago Cubs after forgoing the NFL and choosing to become a professional baseball player instead (he originally planned to try to play in both the NFL and MLB, and was once one of the best college receivers in the nation). After moving through the Cubs system, he became a mainstay in the majors in 2011, and finally found his way into the rotation at the start of 2012. That season, he posted a 3.55 FIP over 174.2 innings, proving to be by far the best starter on a sorry team that lost 101 games. In 2013, he once again put up above-average numbers, posting a 3.77 FIP and increasing his groundball numbers over the previous season.
In 2014, Shark had his best year ever as a major leaguer, posting a 4.1 fWAR, a 3.20 FIP, and a 50.2% GB rate. In fact, he pitched so well that the Cubs flipped him at the deadline for one of the premier prospects in baseball at the time, Addison Russell. Billy Beane acquired Samardzija and Jason Hammel in an effort to bring a championship to Oakland, but in doing so, he surrendered one of his most prized young players (a player who just had a 2.9 fWAR as a 21 year old for the Cubs, by the way). While this trade looks like quite a mistake in hindsight, the fact that Samardzija brought this kind of return for the Cubs shows just how good he pitched in 2013 and 2014.
However, after a somewhat disappointing end to 2014, Samardzija signed only a one-year deal last offseason in an attempt to raise his value and sign a lucrative contract this season. Let's just say that didn't exactly go according to plan. Samardzija once again had a 2.7 fWAR, but he posted an ERA of 4.96 - the worst of his career - along with a career worst 4.23 FIP. His groundball rate plummeted to 39% (not ideal if you're a groundball pitcher like him), while his home run rate rose to 1.22 HR/9, another career-worst number. About the only good thing that can be said about his performance last season is that he stayed healthy once again, pitching over 200 innings for the third straight year.
Since arriving in the big leagues, Samardzija has had only one terrific season. However, a lot of teams see that and think they could be the place he could unlock his full potential and have a few more years of that caliber. The Yankees shouldn't be fooled, though. Yes, it's possible he reaches those 2014 heights again, but it's more likely they'll get a decent, durable pitcher, and nothing more. The Yankees already have a plethora of promising right-handers with upside, and almost all of them are younger than Samardzija to boot. There's no reason to spend much money on someone that will be redundant on their pitching staff. If he has this $100 million offer on the table, or if that's anywhere close to what he's asking for, the Yankees should stay far, far away. Better to wait until a year or two down the line, see what happens with the young arms they have, and then break out some serious cash for a real ace.
If there's any way Samardzija could be had for cheap, he'd add some consistency and durability to a rotation that has craved it over the past couple of seasons. But if not, missing out on Samardzija will not be what keeps the Yankees from making the playoffs next season. Their money will be better spent elsewhere, either this offseason - or, more likely - in the future.