Apr 29, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija (29) works during the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles are frontrunners in the Jeff Samardzija sweepstakes

According to a report by Bruce Levine on Tuesday, the Orioles are the most interested team so far in acquiring Chicago Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija. Both teams are interested and have the pieces to make a deal work, as the Orioles boast one of the strongest group of starting pitching prospects in the game, with Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Hunter Harvey and Eduardo Rodriguez. The non-waiver trade deadline isn’t for another two months, on July 31, but with the AL East clustered together, and Baltimore only 3.5 games out, this could be the big move to help separate the O’s from the rest of the pack.

The Orioles have the sixth highest ERA in baseball, and the third highest FIP, which is a much better indicator of true pitching talent. Getting Samardzija and his 1.68 ERA and 2.79 FIP would be a huge boost to the struggling rotation. It would also allow them to stop having to give regular starts to either Chris Tillman, Bud Norris or Miguel Gonzalez, who have all been barely at replacement level. This could let manager Buck Showalter add a starter to his bullpen, which has also struggled at times.

Trading away either of those four arms would be a big blow for the farm system, but could prove necessary given the current roster shape. And with the high flameout rate of pitching prospects, the Orioles may actually not give up any valuable pieces in the long run.

Dylan Bundy seems the most unlikely to go, even though he’s still recovering from Tommy John. He was ranked as the clear top pitching prospect in 2013, after making his way up to the majors in his first full professional season. He’s seen as a true ace, and the Orioles are not too interested in trading away a future franchise cornerstone.

Despite his major league ready skillset, Kevin Gausman may be the most likely to go. His ceiling is lower than Bundy’s and arguable Harvey’s, and he’s struggled mightily as a starter at the highest level. Some people are growing concern over whether he may end up the bullpen long term. Gausman has the stuff to be a number 2-3 starter, but his struggles make him much more expendable, even with the huge trade value he has.

2013 first round pick Hunter Harvey has many people wondering how he fell so late (22nd overall pick) because he’s shooting his way up prospect leaderboards. His advanced feel for pitching combined with his fastball/curveball/changeup mix have scouts seeing him as a top of the rotation starter. Harvey is the farthest away, and the uncertainty of his future may affect his trade value.

Eduardo Rodriguez may be the lowest ranked of the quartet, but still ranks by most in the top 100 prospects in the minors. He doesn’t have the strikeout stuff the other three have, but he has great control and elicits ground balls as well as any other minor leaguer. Because of the depth of pitching prospects in the organization, Rodriguez is the easiest to let go.

The Cubs are ready to let Samardzija go for the right price, and the Orioles might be in just the right spot to make the offer. Samardzija may not be as elite once he heads to the homer happy Camden Yards, but it’s an upgrade the Orioles can afford to make, and absolutely have to. The Cubs will also line their pitching thin farm system, giving them arguably the best in the league.

Tags: Baltimore Orioles Chicago Cubs Dylan Bundy Jeff Samardzija Kevin Gausman

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