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jeff samardzija featureNow, I’m not one to toot my own horn (those of you rolling your eyes are correct – sometimes, we’ve all got to do some tooting), but yesterday, when rumors swirled that the Chicago Cubs had made Jeff Samardzija a new contract extension offer, I calculated the reasonable range of what the Cubs should offer as $75 million over five years (while leaving opening the possibility that the Cubs could top out at five years and $87.5 million, using the free agent AAV portion of Homer Bailey’s deal). This morning, I reiterated that figure, saying:

Over five years, including next year’s final arbitration year, I just can’t see a justification for the Cubs to go over $75/$80 million tops, even as much as I really like Samardzija on this team for the next several years. The unfortunate reality is, at a price tag beyond that, you’d much rather have whatever young talent the Cubs can bring in for Samardzija right now, and then use that money to bring in external pitching in the offseason. Yes, I’d prefer to have Samardzija be the pitcher the Cubs spend money on, but there has to be a line past which the difference in value between Samardzija (at his price) and Pitcher X (and maybe Pitcher Y, too, at their price) no longer exceeds what the Cubs can get in trade for Samardzija. And, at an extension price over $100 million, for me, that threshold has been crossed.

Enter Jon Heyman with the first report taking a stab at how much the Cubs were offering Samardzija in their new extension discussions. The figure? You guessed it: five years and $75 to $80 million. (AND SEE UPDATE BELOW.)

(*Blows on calculator as if it were a smoking gun, twirls it adroitly, and returns it to holster.*)

To be clear, Heyman doesn’t say for sure that the offer was in that range, but he estimates that it was, and says it was “definitely not in the vicinity” of $105 million, and did top the previous offer of five years and $60 million. I suspect Heyman isn’t just pulling the $75/$80 million figure out of thin air.

As expected, that figure – while reasonable from the Cubs’ perspective – is not what Samardzija is looking for in order to give up his chance at free agency, and stick around on a team that may or may not be competitive in the next few years. Instead, Heyman suggests, Samardzija could be looking for a guarantee in excess of the six-year, $105 million deal Homer Bailey got from the Reds before the season.

If all of this is true, then we come back to where we landed months ago: the gap between the sides is too large to cross, and the Cubs will have to trade Samardzija – preferably sooner rather than later – to capture his asset value. It’s the cold reality of baseball, and, as is often the case, there are no villains here. Samardzija, having made some good money in his career, and believing he’s only going to get better in the next year and a half, understandably wants to bet big on himself. And he’s not going to sign away his free agency short of a huge financial commitment (and some winning). The Cubs, still in the meaty part of a rebuilding process and without the hopeful avalanche of funds that could come in a few years, have to be especially judicious in how they lay out large contracts.

There’s a small glimmer of hope at the end of Heyman’s piece, however, in which he says some Cubs people – not outsiders – have expressed optimism that, in Samardzija’s particular case, there’s a chance he could be traded and then signed as a free agent two winters from now. We’ve discussed this before, and, although you basically never see it happen, this is a rare instance where it does seem plausible, given the Cubs’ time line for competitiveness and Samardzija’s connection to the Cubs. I wouldn’t call it likely. Just plausible.

UPDATE: And just upon publishing this, I see that Jon Morosi provides more information …

Might that be the five years and $87.5 million I mentioned up above, using the AAV of the free agent years in the Bailey deal? Maybe. But, as it stands, that’s just a hair higher than I think the Cubs should consider going, so I can understand them drawing the line there. Further, I can still understand Samardzija declining.

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