Monday, June 16, 2014

Is Jeff Samardzija pitching his way out of Chicago?

Earlier this season, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Matt Garza told Chicago Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija to pitch his way out of Chicago. Garza, who played for the Cubs the last three seasons, has also trashed the organization in a few different interviews. As a Cubs fan, I do believe Garza has a point. Looking back, I certainly wish that we had used Edwin Jackson's money to sign Garza instead (assuming that money was going to be spent, as opposed to saving it or investing further in development). His Brewers are in first place, 11.5 games ahead of the Cubs. And, yes, I also love watching Samardzija pitch and all that he brings to the team.

That being said, I would still like to see Samardzija "pitch his way out" of Chicago at some point over the next five or six weeks, because it will undoubtedly mean another great return for Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and the Cubs organization.

The haul that the Cubs got in return for trading Garza last season is rapidly making the deal work out in Chicago's favor, even with C.J. Edwards, potentially the trade's best player, sitting on the injured list for AA Tennessee. Consider the following:

  • Third baseman Mike Olt is struggling to keep his average above .150, but he does continue to lead all National League rookies in home runs and RBI, showing the potential to be a middle-of-the-order contributor. (He could be used to bolster another trade this year or in the offseason, as the Cubs have Kris Bryant completely dominating AA and seemingly nowhere to send him without hindering Christian Villanueva's progress at AAA Iowa. Having "too many third basemen" could be a great "problem" and may leave Olt as the odd man out while further adding to the return for Garza.)
  • Reliever Justin Grimm has posted a 2.77 ERA in 42 appearances for the Cubs, helping to make the club's bullpen a strength this year.
  • Neil Ramirez looks even better as he has managed to temporarily slide into the closer's role with a 1.06 ERA in 19 outings. Also, the team could decide to insert Ramirez into the rotation after dealing Jason Hammel and possibly Samardzija. (Of course, Ramirez's immediate fate may be directly tied to Hector Rondon's current injury/soreness.)
  • Finally, Edwards is likely at least a year away from reaching Chicago, but he has star potential. His minor league stats (1.81 ERA, .737 winning percentage, and 260 Ks with only 74 walks in 204 innings) are certainly impressive. He should return from injury soon and can hopefully progress to Iowa later this summer.

Seriously. This is what the Cubs managed to get for giving up two months of Matt Garza, who made just 60 starts during his time in Chicago, compared to 94 in the previous three seasons for Tampa Bay. (Adding the 13 starts with Texas at the end of last season still puts him more than 20 below what he was able to do with the Rays over the same amount of time.) Yes, when Garza was healthy enough to pitch for the Cubs, he was pretty good. But we fans do not miss his horrid fielding abilities, his terrible attitude, or his trips to the DL. (As for being just generally weird, I was totally OK with that. I liked Garza a lot when he was healthy and keeping his mouth closed.)

Honestly, right now Samardzija is better than Garza. And with an extra year of team control on his contract, Cubs fans remember the Garza deal and are hoping for a similar (if not better) return when Samardzija is traded.

Samardzija is not interested in any kind of extension, and he really wants to hit the free agent market. So why waste a great trade chip on this Cubs roster? And even if he would consider an extension right now to avoid a trade, think about the money it would take. At least, what, $18-20 million per season? So with a four- or five-year extension, how many seasons will be wasted waiting for the prospects to reach the majors and help the team compete? Even if the answer is only two (which I doubt), that's $40 million that could be saved and spent later on top talent anyway. If the team is ready to compete in 2016, spend the money then.

The current front office has been solid in almost all of its moves. The Edwin Jackson contract kills me, but that's really the only thing I can question. No one could've predicted the Kyuji Fujikawa injury, while many other free agent deals have worked out tremendously. Paul Maholm brought back prospect Arodys Vizcaino, who is now healthy and rising through the minors. Scott Feldman was flipped for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. And now Hammel is sure to demand at least a prospect or two.

Still, a Samardzija deal could be the biggest one yet. And since this team is not ready to compete yet, as a Cubs fan, I'm hoping he does "pitch his way out."

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