In his three starts since the trade deadline, Jeff Samardzija is doing his best to give the White Sox keeper's remorse.
This is worse: He lowered his August ERA in the process.
Samardzija is now 0-3 with a 12.91 ERA and five homers over just 15⅓ innings this month, and he's weighing down the Sox' faint postseason hopes as much as anybody. That's not what anybody envisioned -- not the Sox when they traded for him, not Samardzija when he didn't seriously entertain early extensions, and not the Sox when they refused to trade him for merely anything two weeks ago.
But as bad as it's been, I don't think much has changed. Sure, it wounds a lot of people's pride -- this is what I feared when the Sox announced the Shark Cage -- but the calculus on the qualifying offer looks largely the same. Assuming nothing is physically wrong with Samardzija, I still think it's a lock the White Sox extend him a qualifying offer -- which will be about $16 million -- and I'd wager against Samardzija accepting it.
It's understandable that it's become a question, though. If he finishes with similar rate stats to the ones he owns right now -- 4.78 ERA, a 6 percent drop in strikeouts, a 10 percent drop in grounders -- he'd have the worst contract year of any pitcher to receive a QO.
Yet he's still on pace for 234 innings, he hasn't lost anything in terms of velocity over the course of the season, and his control is still there. His performance triggers caution flags, but the factors underneath it aren't throwing red flags the way, say, Justin Masterson's did during his disastrous contract year (he was traded during, so he couldn't receive a qualifying offer). Robin Ventura says he thinks Samardzija's struggles stem from his release point, and that's as likely as anything.
Sure, somebody will have to accept a qualifying offer at some point, and it's possible Samardzija could be the first if he doesn't experience any kind of rebound. But when you look at the pitchers most adversely affected by the attachment of a draft pick, there still isn't any kind of cautionary tale to heed.
Ubaldo Jimenez: While Jimenez made pretty good use out of his contract year in 2013 -- 13-9, 3.30 ERA over 183 innings, 2.7 WAR -- he was coming off two disappointing seasons, including a downright bomb in 2012. His mechanics were considered high-maintenance, and he wasn't exactly an innings-eater after his trade from Colorado (topping out at 188 in 2011), so his market took a long time to develop.
He eventually landed with the Orioles on a four-year, $50 million deal after pitchers and catchers reported. While that was lower than his reported demands in January ($14 million per), it didn't drop as low as was reported possible (three years, $39 million).
Ervin Santana: Like Jimenez, Santana had an uneven track record, going from a disappointment in Anaheim to reliable in Kansas City in his contract year (3.24 ERA over 211 innings, 2.9 WAR). But when Jimenez signed, Santana found himself as the loser of four-year-contract musical chairs. Instead of settling for a lesser multi-year deal, he eventually found a home on a rebound deal with the Braves on March 12, as their rotation suffered injuries early in spring training. The one-year contract was for the same amount as the qualifying offer he rejected ($14.1 million).
Oddly enough, Santana had a worse year for the Braves -- still decent, just a step down from his 2013 -- and Atlanta slapped a qualifying offer on him ... but it didn't hurt him nearly as badly the following year. He signed the four-year deal he wanted with the Twins, so ultimately he was no worse for the wear. The Twins are the ones regretting their course of action, but that's not Santana's problem.
If that's the present worst-case scenario for healthy starters who received a qualifying offer, I can't imagine that'd be enough to scare off a fully functioning pitcher.
Assuming Samardzija stays healthy and he doesn't get on the kind of hot streak that redefines his season, he won't come within missile-launching distance of getting the contract he envisioned entering the year. But if Samardzija has to settle for a one-year deal, I think he'd want time for the best trampoline situation to reveal itself, rounding up a pool of teams -- perhaps one with a bigger park or a better defense, for instance -- instead of limiting himself to the one with which he's currently costing himself money.