All things considered, the Yankees rotation could be worse. This season, Yankee starters are 11th in the league in FIP-WAR, much better than their very realistic worst-case scenario. Still, with a 4.25 ERA, the starting staff could be better. That's where Jeff Samardzija could fit in. "Shark," as fans know him, is a free agent after this season and is currently pitching for a Chicago White Sox team that is going nowhere fast. Because of his front of the rotation upside, he will almost certainly be on the move at the trade deadline.
So far, Samardzija has thrown 125 1/3 innings, putting him in the workhorse category. He played on the Notre Dame football team and is an extraordinary athlete, which must lend itself to his endurance as a starter. He is the owner of a 4.02 ERA and a 3.41 FIP for an extremely defensively challenged White Sox team. But despite Chicago's defensive shortcomings, his opposing BABIP is at a reasonable .313. His LOB% is more of a cause for concern at 69.8%. Walks aren't an issue for Shark, as he is under two BB/9 over the last two seasons.
Samardzija throws three fastballs in the low to mid 90's, a decent slider, and what could be a game-changing splitter. He has thrown the splitter just under 12% of the time in 2015, according to Brooks Baseball, but the pitch has held hitters to a .172 batting average and a .293 slugging percentage. Possibly inspired by Brandon McCarthy last year, he has thrown his cutter much more this season.
One thing the Yankees will obviously want to predict is which way the law of averages will take Samardzija. There is a pretty sizeable gap between his 4.02 ERA and his 3.41 FIP, and the White Sox are a very poor defensive team. Sadly, the Yankees aren't very good defensively either. According to Brooks Baseball, the average exit velocity of Shark's sinker for righties is at a very low 82 mph, which combined with their 57% groundball rate this season should make it a plus pitch. Somehow, righties have a .387 BABIP against Samardzija's sinker, a number that should decrease regardless of how bad his defense is.
Another question mark for Samardzija is his inability to retire left-handed hitters. Increased usage of his cutter helped him stop the bleeding, and he could consider using his splitter more. Yankee Stadium is known to be the wrong place to have lefty problems, so he will have to get creative. In an ideal world, he would feature a curveball with some depth to keep lefties on their toes. Then again, an ideal world would feature CC Sabathia hitting 97 mph. If the Yankees decide to pursue Samardzija, they will need to have a plan to keep opposing left-handed hitters out of the right field bleachers.
Then there's the issue of his price. The Yankees are apparently against dealing top prospects this season, making more popular targets like Johnny Cueto tough. Samardzija would be a perfect target as a Tier 1.5 kind of guy, assuming he stays there. His last two outings have been outstanding, including a July 9th shutout of the offensively loaded Blue Jays. A few more outings like Thursday's could price Samardzija out of the Yankees' budget for the second straight season. However, if he is up and down over the next couple of weeks, expect to hear his name come up in a lot of trade deadline rumors.
*Unless otherwise stated, stats are courtesy of FanGraphs.