Deal or no deal?
A leader for the future
Raise your hand if you've heard this argument before: The Chicago Cubs need Jeff Samardzija more than he needs them. It was true a year ago, and it's still true today. Maybe the 29-year-old right-hander knows that, and it's why he's holding out for such a large deal. Think $100 million or more.
The Cubs should give it to him.
First off, he's a very good pitcher. We can argue if he's a true ace, though for most of the first half of this season he has been. Even if he's not, he's proved to be a great No. 2. And a team of No. 2s and No. 3s can win you a championship. If Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale are true No. 1s, then what are Jon Lester or Madison Bumgarner? They're no better than Samardzija -- maybe no worse, either -- but they are at the top of the rotations of 2013's World Series winner and the team that took the best record in baseball into play Monday, respectively. The point is, you can win with a bunch of really good pitchers, so the idea that the Cubs might overpay for a No. 2 is moot. They're going to have to roll the dice on an arm at some point, and Samardzija is as good a bet as they come.
Now, let's discuss the ancillary reasons to sign Samardzija. He's a leader, he's a workhorse, he's shown tremendous health, he's getting better, and perhaps most importantly for Cubs fans -- though least important for the front office -- he's a signal. A signal that the team is serious about winning sooner rather than later. To this point there have been some doubts. Most important for these Cubs, they simply need him on the mound.
There is no ace in the making in the minors; there is no savior. Neil Ramirez might turn into a good starter, C.J. Edwards might get to that next level once healthy, and Jake Arrieta could move up the depth chart, but Samardzija is already there. And still we haven't seen him pitch in a pennant race. He might be even better then.
If the National League has proved anything this season, it's that it's very winnable. Maybe next year it will be different, and dynasty teams in the making will emerge. But that's not likely. Samardzija could be the anchor of a competitive team as the Cubs' touted prospects make it to the majors in short order.
But only if they sign him.
Jesse Rogers covers the Cubs for ESPNChicago.com.
Face reality, make a deal
Good organizations re-sign their own players, especially those, such as Samardzija, who are fully in their prime. Most of the small-market teams do this, to say nothing of those -- such as the Cubs -- with big-market resources.
But this isn't a perfect world. This is Cubs World.
Thanks to the team's small-market owners, the Cubs front office is still waiting for the resources to compete and waiting for minor league talent to mature. When will the Cubs compete again? Next year? Doubtful. Two years, three years? Where is that money-making video scoreboard, anyway?
On one hand, it makes perfect sense to lock up a veteran such as Samardzija, a perfect mentor and clubhouse leader. He's 29 but has a younger arm. He has finally figured out how to pitch at an elite level. The Cubs have traded away a lot of players but none as young as Samardzija and none with his best years ahead of him. Dealing Samardzija in Year 3 of a rebuild, with very little salary on their books, would say a lot about how far the Cubs are from competing.
On the other hand, maybe it makes sense to trade him at his apex. When your mission statement is "Acquire more talent," and you're in last place, well, how valuable is Samardzija to the Cubs organization? We know the Cubs aren't gunning for a playoff spot. Why pretend otherwise?
Add to that the fact that pitchers are a tricky lot when it comes to long-term deals.
The money is one thing; the years are another. Jerry Reinsdorf probably had it right when he set a limit on pitcher contracts.
There is the possibility the Cubs front office can't afford to give Samardzija the contract he's looking for, a Homer Bailey-type deal at $100 million-plus, while still adding more free-agent talent.
There is the possibility Theo Epstein & Co. don't think Samardzija is worth that money. Given that they don't have a mandate to win now, they can afford to be choosy.
There is also the possibility Samardzija wants out. He wants to win, and he knows the Cubs aren't serious about winning at this juncture. He's basically said he's not giving the Cubs any kind of deal. Why should he? These guys didn't draft him. All they did was cut his salary when they declined his 2012 option.
While I think it would be a slap in the face to Cubs fans to trade Samardzija for more minor league talent, specifically players years away from being major leaguers, we know the reality of the Cubs in 2014.
Samardzija should be the face of the Cubs. But he's trade bait.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.