While the Scott Kazmir trade between Oakland and Houston signaled the first significant movement on the starting pitching market, Jeff Samardzija continued to do what he's been doing the last month and a half -- pitching deep into games.
He made quite the statement on Thursday, pitching eight innings of one-run ball in an 8-1 victory over the Indians. It's his ninth straight outing of seven innings or more, and now he finally has an ERA (3.91) that more closely resembles the quality of his pitching.
Samardzija should be used to going about his business in the eye of trade rumor whirlwinds, considering he just went through this whole thing between the Chicago Cubs and Oakland A's last summer.
Based on his postgame quotes, he knows the deal all too well:
"I haven't heard anything, so I haven't had any way to have an opinion on the matter," said Samardzija, after throwing 99 pitches in helping the White Sox end a four-game losing streak. "It's been totally silent on my end, which allows me to go out and do my job which has been nice. I understand the business and how it works.
"All I can do is increase my value as much as possible and make both sides come out on top. The better I play, the better the White Sox will get in return if they do trade me and it's better for me to go to a better situation."
It's trickier to assess the White Sox' side of the deal, and it's easy to get impatient when the dominoes start falling, especially since the return for Kazmir -- A-ball pitcher Daniel Mengden and A-ball catcher Jacob Nottingham -- looks like it meets the threshold for a sensible trade.
Dealing a high-quality rental pitcher like Kazmir or Samardzija requires getting the talent equivalent of the 30th overall pick in return, since that's what extending the qualifying offer would yield. If you believe in Nottingham's breakout season, then a 20-year-old catcher with a well-rounded group of skills is a good get. It's hard to trust the numbers out of Lancaster, which is one of professional baseball's most notorious hitter heavens, but the A's and Astros seem to know the California League and each other's players well enough. The reaction at Crawfish Boxes indicates a satisfactory exchange.
Even though Kazmir is gone, the pitching market is still more robust than expected. The rental market includes Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Mat Latos, Yovani Gallardo, Dan Haren and possibly David Price and Hisashi Iwakuma, while under-contract guys like Cole Hamels, mutliple Padres and possibly Carlos Carrasco can be had.
If it's really shifted from a sellers' market to a buyers' market when it comes to starting pitching, it's easy to frame the Sox as potentially delusional, whether it's about their chances ...
... or the potential return.
Jerry Crasnick then walked back that first tweet, saying the Astros made the deal with the A's more because they were a better fit, rather than because the Sox dragged their feet. But based on the reactions from fans and media that follow the Sox, everybody's set their phasers on snark.
There's no need to rip anybody this early, because, as we know, the calculus becomes more complicated when factoring in the dampening effect the draft pick has on players' market value:
Scott Kazmir's trade could be worth millions to him. If he had been given a qualifying offer by OAK, draft comp might've chased away teams.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 23, 2015
This is why Samardzija is fine with a trade, because then it's a no-brainer to go to free agency, and it makes his market a wide-open affair, since there would be no draft pick attached to him.
If the Sox' ultimate Plan A is having Samardzija in the fold for 2016 and beyond, then that's going to make them drive a harder bargain for MLB-ready players, since history says it's considerably easier to sign Samardzija if they hold onto him past the deadline.
Moreover, if the Tigers keep Price, that removes one team from the already-limited pool of teams willing to surrender a draft pick for Samardzija. As we've seen before, the stars aren't hampered much by the compensation pick, but the secondary and tertiary players see their markets develop much more slowly.
The A's could make a deal for an A-ball battery because they didn't plan on retaining Kazmir after the year. The Sox, who are more openly pushing for 2016-17 than Oakland and more interested in retaining their pitcher, have to drive a harder bargain, even if they risk ending up doing nothing. Hell, they might be wielding the draft pick anchor to try to coax Samardzija into an extension before the end of the season. I still see that as the least likely outcome given Samardzija's steady interest in testing free agency, but it would further explain the Sox' deliberate approach to the deadline.