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Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Notre Dame Receiver Signs "Fat" Contract with Cubs

Those of you who follow college football and/or may have watched Notre Dame at all last season may recall the tall, lanky and athletic receiver with a unique last name and long hair protruding from the back of his helmet. Baseball America's John Manuel reported this week that Jeff Samardzija, a fifth-round pick two weeks ago by the Chicago Cubs, agreed in principle with the Cubs on a contract that will allow the righthanded pitcher to continue his all-America football career at Notre Dame this fall while pursuing a career in professional baseball ("Cubs agree to deal with Notre Dame two-way star"). It is reported that Samardzija would receive a $7.25 million bonus if he makes baseball his primary sport, and the deal is backloaded with Samardzija receiving less than $1 million in the first year of the deal.
MLB rules permit teams to spread out payment of the signing bonus over 5 years with respect to two-sport athletes (otherwise, the bonus must be paid in full by the end of the calendar year of the year following the year in which the player was drafted -- i.e. within 1.5 years).

The contract allows Samardzija to keep his options open in football, as he is also projected to be a high NFL draft pick next year. But if and when he decides to focus exclusively on baseball, he is guaranteed $7.25 million -- which would be the largest signing bonus ever given to an amateur player. Thus far, the highest signing bonus ever for a player that signed with the club that drafted him is $6.1 million paid by the Diamondbacks to the 2005 No. 1 overall pick Justin Upton. According to Manuel, the inconsistent quality of his breaking ball and football commitment was one question that prompted Samardzija, a consensus first-round talent, to fall into the fifth round.

While I will be the first to question the use of statistics as a scouting tool, his numbers are not at all reflective of a typical first-round talent, let alone a number one pick. In three seasons for the Irish, he was 21-6, 3.82 (including 8-2, 4.33 this past spring), and his strikeout rate was low for a pitcher with power stuff. He had 61 strikeouts in 98 innings in 2006 and 159 strikeouts (and 84 walks) in 240 career innings.

This is obviously a great deal for Samardzija, and it will be interesting to see how it will impact the contract of two of the consensus top pitchers in the draft this year who have yet to sign a contract -- No. 1 pick Luke Hochevar (Royals) and No. 6 pick Andrew Miller (Tigers). I would suspect that the Royals and Tigers, who are probably negotiating bonuses in the $4M - $5M range, are not very pleased about Samardzija's deal.


The best thing about his commitment to being a two-sport star is that sports writers who cover two different sports will have to learn how to spell his last name.

I can understand the temptation for a gifted athlete to "keep his options open," and I hope that's all this is. Playing two sports in the modern era doesn't seem wise. Bo Jackson, after all, probably sacrificed a chance at a hall-of-fame career in either of his two sports on the altar of playing both. He's been relegated to "greatest video game athlete ever," when, at least according to some, he had the potential to be the greatest ever at either baseball or football.

Blogger Geoffrey Rapp -- 6/21/2006 10:31 PM  

Ever notice that with most guys who play basbeall and another sport that baseball is usually their second best sport. This guy is an All-American in football and a mediocre pitcher. Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, Danny Ainge, Dave DeBusschere all were better at football or basketball than baseball.

Leave it to the always-hapless Cubs to sign a guy like this, who either won't play baseball professionally or likely won't be good at it.

Blogger John Salmon -- 6/22/2006 3:27 AM  


That's why I think it's an incredible deal for him. He can wait and see what happens for him in the NFL draft and then make his decision. If football doesn't work out, then he's entitled to 7.25 from the Cubs. The details of the contract have not been made public, and I wonder how much he gets from the Cubs if he doesn't make baseball his primary sport and decides to play both? Maybe it's a good deal even if he chooses to play both.


Good point. You forgot to mention Drew Henson and Michael Jordan. In order to be able to compete with others at that level in either sport, I think it requires a player to devote his full time and attention on that sport. And when you consider the added complexity that baseball players probably take different steroids than football players, it just makes it more difficult to do :)

It seems like the Cubs are spending a lot for Samardzija. The question is, what is the market price for Samardzija to quit football and focus on baseball in the future? Even if he decided to hang up his football cleates and commit to focusing on baseball at draft time, and he was drafted somewhere in the first round, he simply wouldn't be paid that kind of money -- which then seems to suggest that the Cubs are merely paying a huge premium for his deciding to quit football. Why is that worth so much?....or anything at all?

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 6/22/2006 7:42 AM  

I would add that it would be hard to underestimate the affection for Notre Dame football players in much of Chicago. Regardless of his potential greatness or mediocrity on the mound, you can count on him getting a warm welcome at the friendly confines on most days.

This is only to say that a profit-maximizing Cubs team may not always do the "moneyball" thing -- as long as fans keep showing up and are happy, which they seem to be even when the Cubs are terrible, there's no market force that will force the Cubs to alter the current approach.

Blogger Geoffrey Rapp -- 6/22/2006 9:54 AM  

But of course, Geoff, he has to make it to the majors for the Chicago public to fawn over his Notre Dame roots.

Although Rick and I argue about statistics on a regular basis, he is right to be concerned about those strikeout and walk rates, particularly the strikeout rate.

However, it is possible that the conference is "hitter-friendly," which would cause those rates to be distorted in a way that doesn't do justice to Samardzija's abilities. The DH certainly doesn't help pitching stats.

He did lead the Irish in innings pitched and starts, and he held opponents to a .272 batting average, which isn't bad in college where batting averages are higher. Also, although he allowed quite a few baserunners, he's very stingy with the extra base hits. Some of those singles he's giving up could be a result of poor defensive play, or a big ballpark.

In any event, his numbers don't scream superstar by any stretch. They seem to indicate 5th starter material, at best. But, he's still only 21 years old. His first season in the minors (High A?) will tell us a lot.

I agree the Cubs will be spending a lot of money on a guy who appears to have a very modest upside.

Blogger ChapelHeel -- 6/22/2006 12:57 PM  

For context, the ERA in the Big East conference was 4.80; the batting average was .295; the OBA was .369; the SLG was .417.

Samardzija's ERA was 10% better than the league. His BA-against was 8% better than the league, his OBA-against was 5% better than the league and his SLG-against was 11% better than the league.

Blindfolded, you wouldn't offer the biggest amateur signing bonus to that person, particularly when it appears that Notre Dame's defense was approximately 5% more efficient at turning batted balls into outs than the average Big East team.

Blogger ChapelHeel -- 6/22/2006 1:34 PM  

I ran some numbers, and if he doesn't progress faster than a normal college pitcher, and doesn't get hurt (those being HUGE ifs), you might expect the following stat line if he hits the majors at age 25 and plays in a neutral runs scoring environment:

IP: 163
H: 180
K: 96
BB: 66
ERA: 4.61*
W-L: 8-9

*assumes league average ERA is 4.5.

There is an upside, however. First, he'd probably peak around age 28-27, and might be a solid part of a rotation.

Second, his peripheral numbers (HRA, HA, BBA and K) indicate he should have posted a lower ERA this year than he actually produced, meaning he was fairly unlucky in his 2006 college season. If so, his upside at age 25 would look something like 10-7, 3.86 ERA, which isn't bad considering he would peak a few years later.

It is worth noting that while drafted college players are 50% more likely to make the majors, college hitters are 50% more valuable to their teams when they reach the bigs than college pitchers. My point is that the clubs should reserve the biggest bonuses for the lowest risks, and college hitters are (on average) the lowest risks.

Assuming we are all still around on this blog in 2010, don't hold me to any of these prognostications. :)

Blogger ChapelHeel -- 6/22/2006 5:35 PM  

This is possibly one of the dumbest moves in baseball history. How can you put $7.5 million on the table for someone of that little quality? A fifth round pick who plays football for Notre Dame is your guy to open up the piggy bank with? How can he get more money than the top pick the draft? Unbeleivable...

Anonymous Ron Jumper -- 6/23/2006 3:26 AM  

Chapelheel, way too many stats for me to comment :)

Geoff, is this really a "moneyball" issue? I view this as an issue about the market value of a player. Just because the Cubs value this guy more so than other clubs might (which happens all the time and could be based upon any number of factors like stats, tools, intangibles, or that he attends a nearby college), there is still a market price. For example, I would never purchase a new corvette because I think it's simply not worth the $60,000 market price. But, if I did decide that I wanted one, I wouldn't pay $180,000 for it -- which is what I think the Cubs are doing here.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 6/23/2006 8:26 AM  

It would not be surprising to overpay for a player in return have him drop his other sport. That is the only way it makes sense. If there is a secret deal in place that the pitcher is guaranteed to give baseball a shot over football after college. Maybe the Cubs just had to pay him more than the average 5th round pick to ensure he plays baseball. Although odd for a fifth round pick, i am sure his stock dropped because of his first round NFL potential.

Anonymous tommie -- 6/25/2006 6:57 PM  


When you say "maybe the Cubs had to pay him more than the avg. 5th round pick" -- that's a huge understatement. He's getting paid a lot more than the avg. FIRST round pick! But besides that, why does it make sense to pay a huge premium in return for giving up football? What makes that worth so much to the Cubs? At the end of the day (if he gives up football) the Cubs are left with a guy playing exclusively baseball (just like all of the other players) who they paid more than any other draft pick in the history of the game! -- The Cubs better be really confident that he's going to be a star is what I'm saying.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 6/26/2006 7:20 PM  

You are right the Cubs better be really confient he will be a star, or at least a formidable major league pitcher.
But this would have been the same things several years ago if whoever drafted deion sanders paid him an extraordinary amount of money to to quit football after college and only play baseball. I am not saying the cubs did this, but it would make sense (as long they believe he will be worth it like we agreed).

Anonymous tommie -- 6/27/2006 7:41 PM  

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