As it was last year, the Winter Meetings were something of a let down, in terms of overall baseball activity. Whereas last year’s meetings were dampened by teams adjusting to the implications of the new CBA, this year’s meetings were dampened by the unbelievable volume of activity last week. There simply weren’t as many moves left to make. Plus everyone’s still waiting on Masahiro Tanaka.
The rumors were aplenty, though, as always. At least that kept us a little toasty.
For the Cubs, specifically, there was little movement. The team picked up outfielder Justin Ruggiano this morning in a minor trade, grabbed a minor league catcher in the Rule 5 Draft, and made another minor league signing. The word “minor” loomed heavily.
The biggest story coming into the meetings for the Cubs was what might happen with Jeff Samardzija. Would the Cubs finally break through and extend the soon-to-be 29-year-old righty? Would the Cubs finally break down and trade him?
The answer, of course, is that the Cubs did nothing with him – outwardly, at least. Which is not to say there weren’t a great many discussions involving and surrounding Samardzija (“minor” discussions?). Unfortunately for anxious fans, there is no requirement that things happen this week. Rushing into decisions makes for crappy decisions.
“We continue to try to move the ball forward as much as we can on one of two or three possible outcomes,” Theo Epstein said of the Samardzija situation this week, per Cubs.com. There hasn’t been any fundamental change in the situation. Communication is good and we continue to view Jeff as a really big part of what we’re doing, even as we admit there are several possible outcomes.”
We’ll never know precisely what this week’s meeting produced, but we know there hasn’t been much movement on the extension front. Samardzija is under control for two more years via arbitration, and seems reluctant to sign a long-term deal that doesn’t pay him commensurately with the exploding free agent market. He’s a confident guy with a ton of upside, and he remains content to bet on himself.
That, of course, leaves the Cubs in the crummy position of fielding offers for him without actually knowing whether it’s going to make sense to trade him. That was probably part of the conversation this week, and it will probably remain a part of the conversation through midseason, at least. So long as Samardzija remains with the Cubs, anyway. Epstein sounds like he wishes that the trade talk, publicly, would go away.
“At some point, I don’t think Jeff deserves to read about this every day,” Epstein said, again, per Cubs.com. “It’s a tough thing to read about someone speculating on where you’re going to work. We’ll put it to bed. The situation now is Jeff’s our Opening Day starter and that’s how we’re moving forward …. I don’t want Jeff to have to read the paper every day that there’s speculation that he might be traded or not.”
Although it’s a completely legitimate and thoughtful point from Epstein, the reality is that, with an on-field product that is unlikely to provide compelling headlines on its own merit, the rumors involving a front-line, popular starting pitcher are going to carry the day. We just won’t hear the Cubs talking about it.
From here, I can only assume that each side knows where the other stands. I can assume further that many of the possible trade partners out there have let the Cubs know generally where they stand, and the Cubs have responded in kind. Each of those sides is probably waiting for more clarity on the starting pitcher market – Tanaka being made available, David Price being shopped, any of Garza/Santana/Jimenez signing – before getting too serious in trade discussions.
In the interim, the Cubs will continue to go about building their 2014 roster as wisely as possible. There will be an effort to put together the best possible team, with an understanding that big dollars aren’t forthcoming right now, and flippability is still an attractive feature in a free agent.
That will be true whether Samardzija opens the season with the Cubs or not. The sad reality? Even if the Cubs kept Samardzija, signed Tanaka, and signed Shin-Soo Choo, they still wouldn’t project to win anything close to the 90 games necessary to have a fighting chance in the NL Central or the Wild Card in 2014.