We’ve haven’t quite yet reached the Jeff Samardzija Rumorpalooza part of the offseason, which will inevitably come at some point in the next two months, now that Masahiro Tanaka has signed and guys like Matt Garza are going off the board. When it arrives, you’ll hear much of the same that we heard back in November and December: the two sides want to marry on a long-term deal, but there’s a disconnect in price (and future competitiveness). With Samardzija under control for two more years, the rumors will go, the Cubs have to deal Samardzija now to maximize the trade return.
For my part, I hope that window of rumoring is brief, because I tend to think it’s more likely Samardzija is dealt at the Trade Deadline, if at all, given the way the market apparently wasn’t to the Cubs’ satisfaction back in December. With two years of control, the Cubs needn’t be in any rush to move Samardzija. Even if an extension isn’t going to happen, there’s considerable upside in hoping Samardzija’s performance matches his peripherals in the first half of 2014, and a team needing marginal wins in the second half will overpay for the big righty. Plus, well, the longer the Cubs go without trading Samardzija, there’s always that small chance the two sides come together on a reasonable extension. Let’s not throw that out the window entirely just yet.
Against that backdrop, and after the Cubs missed on Tanaka, Samardzija was on with Bruce Levine and Ben Finfer at The Score this weekend. You can listen to the interview here, or you can read a transcript over at The CCO. I just wanted to highlight two thoughtful things Samardzija said:
- In response to a question on whether missing on Tanaka impacts Samardzija’s desire to stay with the Cubs and impacts the team generally, Samardzija said, “You know I think it could be a blessing in disguise to tell you the truth. I think around the convention I was excited for it obviously because the idea of adding a player like that, you know, that’s a good thing. But I think this could be a positive. Opening up and showing on the table that you have some money to spend allows us to go out and maybe add, instead of one guy, maybe we can add, you know, two, three or four guys that can really help this roster out come Spring Training and come the start of the season. So maybe you can allocate those funds in a different direction and really help improve this team. Maybe instead of one guy, you add maybe a few more guys and maybe even cheaper the cost still.”
- To the extent that’s true – that the Cubs can allocate the funds differently to improve the team – it almost certainly won’t be until after the 2014 season. That’s partly because the free agent market is mostly exhausted at this point, and partly because the 2015 Cubs look like they might have a chance to surprise, whereas the 2014 Cubs look like they have no chance. Mostly I just liked that Samardzija was doing his best to put a positive spin on the Cubs trying, but failing, to land Tanaka. He was also probably trying to nudge the front office: hey, spend some of that money making the team better, whydontcha.
- On a related point, Samardzija discussed something we’ve talked about here as it relates to the impending arrival of top prospects: “I was excited [about the possibility of Tanaka] just because that would kick [the building process] in the right direction. I still don’t think that is off the table. I think obviously we have these prospects coming up and everybody’s talking about them, but there has to be the buffer zone in between that helps those guys learn to play the game the right way and learn to have success and be winners at the next level. So, there are still some guys that you can add that can help those guys out and really cushion that entrance into the big leagues. So, I’m still excited. There are things you can do and once you’ve shown that you have the money to make moves and you’re willing to make moves, usually you see other things follow after that.”
- Samardzija is pretty spot on with that one. Although the core prospects rising through the system can be the backbone on which the next competitive Cubs team is built, they can’t be the only thing upon which the Cubs try to construct a winner. I’m already nervous about the overwhelming pressure that would/will face Javier Baez and Kris Bryant if they make the bigs at some point this year. Imagine if they, together with anyone else coming up over the next 18 months, are expected to carry the entire weight of expectation without any veterans on the roster to handle some of the expectations and production. I don’t want to think about the possible downside there. If the rebuild is all about putting the organization in the best position to succeed consistently for the long-term, then you also want to see the organization put these youngsters in the best position to succeed when they arrive. As Samardzija aptly puts it, having a “buffer” in place at that time in the form of quality, established big leaguers sure would be nice. Hopefully that includes guys like Samardzija, and Anthony Rizzo, and Starlin Castro, and Travis Wood, and Welington Castillo. But hope is not a strategy.