Unlike with free agency, where the bulk of signings are wrapped up by Christmas, trades tend to be spread out all across the offseason. Partly for that reason, it never seemed an absolute necessity that, if the Cubs were going to shop Jeff Samardzija, they would have to do so by the Winter Meetings (mid-December). Teams anticipate that the trade market will still be cruising along come January and early February.
Further, you could argue that it’s not as if the Cubs need to beat the free agent market with a Samardzija trade, since Samardzija will not be expensive, in terms of salary, next year (meaning he’ll fit in most budgets regardless of other free agent moves), and he’ll upgrade virtually any rotation in baseball, even after free agency plays out.
With that all in mind, I tend to see a lot of merit in Peter Gammons’ latest, in which the venerable reporter says the Cubs plan to let the Jeff Samardzija market play out before making any quick moves. Gammons indicates that the Cubs believe they can maximize Samardzija’s trade value after most free agents have signed and after Masahiro Tanaka is posted.*
*(Aside: in this way, winning the Tanaka post would be a double-positive for the Cubs.)
Slow-playing the trade market is also consistent with the Cubs giving Samardzija as much time as possible to agree to a team-friendly extension before they decide to pull the trigger on a trade. By all signals, the Cubs are currently working on two fronts with respect to Samardzija, engaging in some kind of trade discussions, but also remaining in talks with Samardzija about an extension. The first time one side of that extend/trade equation offers the Cubs significant value is probably when we’ll see them pull the trigger. In either case, there may not be a reason to move aggressively.
And, heck, I’m still on record as saying that the Cubs don’t absolutely have to trade Samardzija this offseason even if they can’t agree on an extension beyond the two years of control the Cubs have left. I simply don’t see the need to rush – at least not until/unless a team puts a knock-your-socks-off kind of offer on the table.
Finally, waiting to trade Samardzija provides the Cubs some cover for the rest of their offseason plans. If they aren’t able to land one or more of their preferred pitching targets, maybe the idea of trading Samardzija right now becomes a tiny bit less palatable. On the other hand, if the Cubs managed to grab an arm or two on deals that they felt provided surplus value, then they would know for certain that they can comfortably trade Samardzija to build for the future while simultaneously not instantly throwing the 2014 season in the crapper.