Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Report: Cubs renew contract talks with Jeff Samardzija

Turn on the baseball talk shows in Chicago, and you still hear nothing but poetry and praise for the Cubs' front office and its rebuilding plan. Many members of the media gush about the prospects the Cubs have in their system, especially third baseman Kris Bryant, who has been tearing up Double-A.

But here's the thing: Prospects are all fine and dandy, but don't you have to make progress at the major league level eventually? The Cubs have lost 90 or more games for three consecutive years, and they are on pace for another 93 losses this season. That's unacceptable for a big-market team -- at least it should be.

It's past time for the Cubs to open up the wallet and start spending to improve the major league team. The North Siders have only $31 million committed to their roster for the 2015 season (excluding arbitration raises). Given the ticket prices they charge, the Cubs should have plenty of cash on hand. And, there's not much question that money should be spent on pitching.

All these prospects we keep hearing about are position players: Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, Arismendy Alcantara, etc. Where are the pitching prospects? There aren't many worth talking about, and that's why I think the Cubs should sign their best pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, to an extension. Reports on Monday indicated the team is trying to do just that.

To this point in the season, it's been assumed Samardzija would be traded to an AL East contender midseason. Previous contract talks have gone nowhere with the right-hander, whose 2.77 ERA ranks ninth in the National League. Despite a 2-6 record, Samardzjia's other numbers are good: 82 strikeouts in 91 innings and a 1.18 WHIP. I don't know that he's an ace on a contending team, but he's probably a No. 2 starter. He's a solid, reliable pitcher who would be an asset to any organization.

Knowing that, why don't the Cubs just keep him? Sure, he's going to command six years at over $100 million. That's a lot of dough, but it's the going rate. If Homer Bailey can get six years and $105 million, then so can Samardzija. And it isn't like any of the other free agent pitching options next offseason (Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, James Shields, Justin Masterson) are going to come any cheaper.

If you're gonna pay for pitching, why not pay the guy who has been with the organization all along? Samardzija will be 30 heading into next season, but his arm doesn't have the wear and tear of many pitchers his age. He was late to the party in terms of becoming a starting pitcher. He's thrown 649 innings in the majors during his career. By way of comparison, San Francisco right-hander Matt Cain (who is three and a half months older than Samardzija) has thrown 1,779.2 innings in the majors. Projecting a pitcher's future is always guesswork, but if I had to take a guess, I'd say Samardzija's got plenty of bullets left.

Let's say the Cubs do ante up and make Samardzija a lucrative offer in the coming weeks. It will be interesting to see if he accepts. I have the sneaking suspicion that Samardzija is tired of this rebuilding plan. By the Cubs' own admission, they are at least two years and maybe three years away from fielding a team that can compete. Samardzija is in the prime of his career right now. Does he want two or three more of his best years to go to waste languishing on a rebuilding club? The way he's pitched, it's absurd he has only two wins this season.

That leads me to my next point: If the Cubs want to attract big-name free agents, they need to start winning more games. Why did Masahiro Tanaka choose the Yankees over the Cubs? It wasn't because the Cubs didn't make a representative offer. It was because Tanaka wants to win, and the Yankees field a competitive team every season.

Sure, the Cubs could flip Samardzija to the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Orioles or Yankees and get three or four prospects, but then their team would become even worse than it already is. If the Cubs trade both Samardzija and pitcher Jason Hammel, they don't have many good options to plug into those two rotation spots. They might be charting a course toward 95 or 100 losses.

Would Max Scherzer or Jon Lester want to come be a part of that? I don't think so. Who is going to take the Cubs' money, if not Samardzija? Members of the media might be swooning about Cubs prospects, but veteran players don't give a damn about Javier Baez's batting average in Triple-A. They want a chance to win, and they want it sooner rather than later.

I believe signing Samardzija for the long haul would bring the Cubs closer to a chance to win than flipping him for a package of ifs and maybes at the trade deadline.


  1. If they admit they are two years away they are just putting this out there to get a better offer in prospect return. They seriously could compete next year if they extend shark and add one more arm. They have 2 more stud bullpen arms in AA in Rivero and Vizcaino. They are 2 years away simply ecause Ricketts needs to make his money first and keep rolling in the profits. That is the main goal of this regime unfortunetly. With Castro, Rizzo,Bryant and Baez they would have4 very solid hitters so I just cannot buy into the rebuild propoganda any longer because they could compete next year especially considering the parity in baseball currently.

  2. Agree with this guy ^^^. I mean how much longer do you keep rebuilding and stockpiling prospects that may or may not turn out? It's not like the NL Central has a real dominant team right now. The Cubs are only 10 games under .500 - which isn't terrible (sad to say). Arrieta, Samardzija, Wood and Hammel are getting it done. The offense is what is lacking. Is it just me or do the Cubs wait longer to bring up prospects than just about any other notable team or what? I mean how long do you have to kill double and triple A pitching before you get your shot on a big league team that is dying for talent at the plate?

  3. A few points:

    1. Bryant has been promoted to Triple-A. Makes sense. He was killing Double-A pitching, and it was time to put him at the next level.

    2. Baez isn't doing all that well at Iowa. He's hitting .215, and the jump from Triple-A to the majors is the hardest one to make. It's hard to justify calling him up when he's been far from dominant at Triple-A.

    3. The Cubs have two legit hitters on their 25-man roster: Castro and Rizzo. Baez plays the same position as Castro. If Baez is called up, where's he gonna play? I'm surprised the Cubs haven't tried him at a different position yet.

    4. They certainly won't be moving Baez to third base, because now he's teammates with Bryant, a third baseman.

  4. After I posted that I went and looked at Baez's stats. Yeah, not exactly tearing it up at AAA. You'd like to think someone has considered what the options are for Bryant and Baez on the field. What are your thoughts? Wasn't moving Castro to 2nd on the table? Or was it to 3rd? (obviously an issue with Bryant)

  5. None of the players involved are considered defensive stalwarts. Baez committed 44 errors in 123 minor league games at SS last year. This year, he has committed 10 -- a modest improvement. Bryant has committed 14 errors at 3B this year. And, well, you've seen Castro play. He's maddening with some of the mistakes he makes out there.

    To me, somebody has to go to the outfield. I wouldn't want all three of these guys in my infield. The Cubs certainly have plenty of openings in their light-hitting outfield. I'd probably stick Baez in LF at AAA for a while and see what happens. The Sox tried that trick with Carlos Lee back in the day. At least they got his bat in the lineup...

  6. Another quality start, another loss. The Cubs need BATS. And someone with an OBP over .300 hitting leadoff would be nice!

  7. Would you trade Samardzija to get a couple bats?

    If the Cubs are going to trade Samardzija, it would behoove them to get a couple of young players who are major-league ready.

    You take a look at what the White Sox did: They turned Hector Santiago into Adam Eaton, who has reached base in 18 consecutive games and looks like an everyday leadoff hitter and CF to me. Samardzija is a much more polished pitcher than Santiago is or ever will be, so it stands to reason the Cubs should be able to get immediate help if they trade Samardzija.

    I don't think it makes sense to trade a pitcher like this for a bunch of guys who need to report to Class A.

  8. I don't know. I keep hearing how weak their pitching is. Maybe that's the case in the minors but right now their team ERA is 10th best in baseball. To me that means they are getting pretty crappy production from their bats since they are 12 games under .500 right now.

  9. Their organizational depth is pretty poor when it comes to pitching. That's the main reason I think they should hang on to Samardzija, if they can. Of course, they can't force him to sign. He might be hellbent on getting out of Chicago. I do think you'll see a spike in the Cubs' team ERA if both Samardzija and Hammel are traded, as expected. None of the five guys in the rotation at Triple-A Iowa are worth a damn.

  10. I think you are right. I'm sure people have been in his ear to get out of there. And when I saw him pitching the other night, he just didn't look very happy. He had the look of "I'm doing my job, when are the rest of you F'ers going to step up and do yours?" And with the Cubs history, it's not like he doesn't see the writing on the wall. I think the offer they gave him was a joke considering a guy like Homer Bailey got over 100 mil. If I were him I would be insulted. The lure of playing for the Cubs in Wrigley just doesn't have the same ring to it as it used to. Guys want to win and make money. And it's not hard these days to pick and choose the team that can give you both.

  11. I'm sure he knows he might have a chance to win this year if he refuses to accept any offer from the Cubs and forces a trade. As I mentioned, everyone in contention in the AL East is interested. The Giants are reportedly in the mix, too. I'm pretty sure David Price is going to be the most coveted pitcher available in a midseason trade, but Samardzija would be second on that list.