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MLB rumors: Yankees could pursue Jeff Samardzija in free agency

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The Yankees might seek a buy-low option to improve their starting rotation in the off-season.

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Just a few days after the Yankees' 2015 campaign ended, the first off-season rumors arrived. The team's rotation was notoriously shaky down the stretch, as only Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino notched seasons with an ERA- under 100. There is a plethora of starting options already in-house for 2016, like Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Adam Warren. However, any iteration of the three starters from that group is unlikely to lead to a rotation that is particularly strong. Enter the starting pitcher free agent market, per Jon Heyman

Some Yankees people love Samardizja for his potential, and also for his interest in the big stage. That Samardzija was a star wide receiver for Notre Dame adds to the interest for the Yankees, who see better results ahead for Samardzija. They also may see a possible bargain following a year in which he had a near-5 ERA, totally uncharacteristic for him.

Given owner Hal Steinbrenner's recent disinterest in spending big on the free agent market when contracts aren't leaving the books, this news is not particularly surprising. The team didn't really pursue last off-season's top starting options Max Scherzer and Jon Lester, so there is understandably doubt that they will make much of an attempt to sign the likes of David Price or Zack Greinke, for better or for worse.

Samardzija had one of the worst walk years in recent memory after getting traded from the Athletics to the White Sox on December 9th. He stayed healthy and threw 214 innings in 32 starts with a low walk rate (2.1 BB/9), but beyond that, it was a mess. Despite a roughly league-average FIP of 4.23 (101 FIP-), his ERA was an unsightly 4.96 (122 ERA-), and his strikeout rate dropped from 8.3 K/9 in his All-Star 2014 to 6.9 K/9 in 2015. Samardzija was much more hittable, leading the league in hits and homers allowed (228 and 29, respectively).

Sometimes, he could be dominant, but on several other occasions, he was rocked. Paul Sporer of FanGraphs has more:

Samardzija has 14 quality starts this year, 11 of which I’d call super-quality (7+ IP/0-2 ER). That total ties him for eighth-most this year. There are a lot of ties so there are 18 players ahead of him ranging from Zack Greinke’s 18 (he stands alone) to Matt Harvey and Chris Archer tied at 12 just ahead of Shark. Garrett Richards, Shelby Miller, and Corey Kluber are the guys tied with him at 11. Unfortunately, Samardzija also has 11 outings of 5+ ER, tied with Alfredo Simon for the most in baseball.

Despite all the struggles, Samardzija remains an enticing option. He was terrific for both the Cubs and A's in 2014, striking out over 200 batters for the second straight season with a 2.99 ERA and 3.20 FIP on the year in 219 2/3 innings. He will be 31 next year, but pitchers of that caliber don't grow on trees. I would bet against the idea that he's totally finished.

The White Sox might have a hard time giving Samardzija a qualifying offer after a season like that, and teams are logically going to be hesitant to sign him if he costs them a draft pick since he is such a risk. However, if the White Sox don't tender him a contract, then he could be a fine buy-low candidate. Perhaps he would even take a one-year "pillow" contract like the one Adrian Beltre signed with the Red Sox in 2010 to rebuild his value for the 2016-17 off-season rather than commit himself to a lower-value multi-year deal.

It's not a terrible idea. I'd rather the Yankees go after a Price, but if they won't, they should still seek to improve the rotation in some way. Samarzija offers no guarantees, but on a relatively inexpensive deal? He could be worth a shot.