As we’ve discussed interminably, and as recently as last week, Jeff Samardzija does not look long for the Chicago Cubs. With just a year of team control left after this season, plus a competitive timeline that probably won’t kick in until that final year of control (at the earliest), and a confident starting pitcher who doesn’t want to sign away his free agent years without clearly seeing a winner on the field, the Cubs may have to cash in the “asset value” of Samardzija sooner rather than later. That means a trade this year, rather than an extension.
And, as we’ve also discussed, even if those issues could be overcome, there’s still the matter of agreeing on an appropriate price for a Samardzija extension. To that point, Samardzija added a little bit of information in a discussion with Patrick Mooney. Among the reasons Samardzija doesn’t want to settle for a team-friendly extension at this point? He’s part of a union, and his decisions affect his fellow ballplayers.
“Personally, numbers and money don’t really drive me,” Samardzija told Mooney. “What does drive me is protecting and setting up the players behind me, the future generations, so that I’m not signing any of these crummy early deals for seven or eight years …. When you’re hitting your prime and you’re hitting free agency — like it’s supposed to be done — then that’s the way it sets up for guys behind you,” Samardzija said. “I definitely have a responsibility to the players that are younger than me and approaching arbitration or approaching free agency to keep the numbers where they should be.”
It’s an admirable, if convenient, stance for Samardzija to take, given that holding out for free agent does subject him to some risk of injury or ineffectiveness. In the end, we come back to the same point again and again, though: Samardzija has made a lot of money already in his career, and is very confident in his abilities. If he wants to bet on himself to score big in free agent – be it for the players behind him or for himself – you can’t be mad at him. The playing life of a ballplayer is so short that I can’t begrudge anyone who wants to make as much as they can in the time they have in the game. Get yours, boys.
From the Cubs’ perspective, though, it’s also the same point again and again: with cheap team control through next year, without a clearly-established track record of dominance, and with a competitive window that is a bit murky, the Cubs cannot and will not pay free agent prices to extend Samardzija at this time. If that means the two sides cannot come together on a reasonable extension (which has always been the best solution), capturing Samardzija’s value via trade is going to be the only way to proceed.