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jeff samardzija featureWell, sigh. It’s here. I always hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but, with the rumors flying so frequently that it’s a two-rumors-in-a-single-day kind of thing, I can’t avoid the Obsessive Trade Watch any longer. (UPDATE: but see the update below, which maybe-possibly suggests there’s a chance that an extension isn’t off the table.)

Today, Jeff Passan reports that, not only are the Chicago Cubs already discussing Jeff Samardzija trades with other teams, but they have specifically inquired about acquiring competitive balance draft picks (the kind that can be traded) in this year’s draft.

There are 13 total competitive balance picks available for trading: numbers 35 through 41 overall, and then 69 through 74 overall. They range in slot value from $1.6 million to $760,000. The teams that hold those picks are the Rockies, Marlins, Astros, Indians, Pirates, Royals, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Rays, Pirates, Mariners – in that order.

You can see some teams in there with which the Cubs could have a trade match, including the Rockies (connected to Samardzija previously), the Marlins (connected to Samardzija previously), maybe Royals, maybe Brewers (but can’t see them having the pieces), and maybe Mariners.

Let’s clear something up quite quickly before anything else: acquiring a draft pick in a deal involving Jeff Samardzija would be more cherry than ice cream. It drove me nutty (pun) last year to read again and again how the “key” to the Scott Feldman deal with the Orioles was the teeny, tiny international slot the Cubs acquired, together with Jake Arrieta (big league pre-arb rotation arm) and Pedro Strop (big league back-end reliever). That was, of course, ridiculous, and I fear we’re at risk for sliding into a similar narrative with respect to draft picks.

This weekend’s Pirates/Marlins trade should head that off, as I explained yesterday. When the 39th pick nets you a cost-controlled, but negative-WAR middle reliever, I think it’s fair to say that those picks don’t have a ton of standalone value. And why should they? Acquiring the pick grants you the right to select a player, whom you then still have to successfully sign, pay $1 million+, and then develop successfully as a prospect – and we know how rare that is for picks after the first 20 or so.

So, circling back to the rumor, I have no doubt that the Cubs would love to pick up a competitive balance pick in this year’s draft (or any draft, really). But that’s not going to be a deal-maker or a deal-breaker in something as organizationally impactful as trading Jeff Samardzija.

To me, the more important piece of this rumor is the indication that the Cubs are – already – discussing Samardzija with other teams. Perhaps only lightly because of the draft impetus, but still, it’s early June. It’s very, very rare to see a player of Samardzija’s caliber dealt before July, primarily because of the market needing more time to shake out (buyers need time to decide to buy, other sellers need time to decide to sell, so possible buyers need to wait to see who else will be on the market, and clear sellers need to wait to see that they can get the best price depending on how all of the rest of that shakes out). The Cubs aren’t going to force the issue just to pick up a draft pick, so unless a team like the Rockies decides it wants to jump the market and step up with a huge offer for Samardzija, I don’t think we’ll see a surprise deal this week. But the fact that these discussions are reportedly already happening suggests that, assuming health and effectiveness, an eventual Samardzija trade is highly likely.

While I doubt a deal happens quickly enough for 2014 picks to be involved, but, keep in mind: competitive balance picks for next year’s draft will be determined in mid-July, and can be traded thereafter. So, even if the Cubs don’t pick up a draft pick before Thursday, they could still nab a future one.

But only as the cherry.

UPDATE: MLB Trade Rumors does a little reporting, hearing from a “baseball source” that “there is no truth to the assertion that the Cubs have inquired about receiving a competitive balance draft pick as part of a Samardzija deal.” That’s a very specific denial, which makes you wonder if it came directly from someone affiliated with the Cubs (i.e., if an official with the Indians contacted MLBTR to tell them Passan’s report was untrue, you’d have to wonder: how do the Indians know for sure?). You also have to wonder if there’s some wordplay in there: the Cubs haven’t inquired, but maybe they’ve listened? Listened assertively? Or maybe there’s just nothing to the rumor at all.

Keep in mind: the Cubs have said publicly as recently as last month that they are still open to extending Samardzija, and the idea that they are openly shopping him this early would run slightly counter to that. If there’s even a small chance that the Cubs and Samardzija could come together on a reasonable extension, I’ve got to believe the Cubs wouldn’t want to do anything to harm those chances in early June.

The story here, remains what it’s been for a long time: a reasonable extension makes the most sense, but, if that’s absolutely not going to be possible, the Cubs will have to seriously consider capturing Samardzija’s value on the trade market by the July 31 Trade Deadline. And, because these things cannot necessarily proceed in an entirely exclusive manner, we’re probably going to continue to hear “trade rumors” in the coming weeks, even if the possibility of an extension is not entirely off of the table.

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