The Cubs And Jeff Samardzija Belong Together
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By Alex Kantecki (Cubs Correspondent): Follow @rotodealer
I remember the grumbles and the echoes of “You’ve got to be kidding me” and “Jim Hendry did what now?” from Cubs fans when the team signed a 21-year old football star to a five-year, $10 million contract back in 2007.
I remember because I was one of the grumblers.
In 2006, the Cubs selected Jeff Samardzija – a wide receiver from Notre Dame – in the fifth round (149th overall) of the Amateur Baseball Draft, not knowing whether the All-American football player with a 97 MPH fastball would forfeit a clear path to the NFL for a hit-or-miss career in baseball.
Jeff Samardzija Tribute: Mature Lyrics so Parental Guidance is advised:
The deal he originally he signed out of of football also included a no-trade clause. (Yes, you read that correctly, a no-trade clause for a 21-year old.) At the time, it looked like another classic overspend by Hendry, who had just inked Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year, $136 Million deal – the fifth-richest contract in MLB history at the time – after the team skidded to a 66-96 record in 2006.
The Cubs – and Hendry’s empty pocketbook – had hoped Soriano was the missing piece to the organization’s “[However many years] and counting” drought of World Series Championships, but after six (going on seven) years of a love-mostly hate relationship between Cubs fans and Soriano, the team and the city are still searching for a winner.
And in all likelihood – whether he sticks around for the remainder of his contract or not – Soriano’s not going to be a part of the Cubs next run, whenever that happens. Samardzija, on the other hand, should be, or rather, could be, but Theo Epstein and Co. have been unable to come to terms on an extension with the 28-year old, who avoided arbitration on a one-year, $2.64 Million deal this winter.
Keep in mind that at this time last year, Samardzija was fighting for a spot in the rotation, hoping to avoid the bullpen or, worse, a demotion to Triple-A. A strong spring performance landed him the No. 3 spot behind currently-injured Matt Garza and the departed Ryan Dempster, and Samrdzija simply ran away with his new role. In his first start of the year – and his first start since 2010 – Samardzija was one out away from throwing his first career complete game.
And it only got better from there, as Samardzija ended up as the Cubs most valuable starting pitcher in 2012, leading the team in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts. Overall, he finished with a respectable 3.81 ERA and struck out 180 batters over a career-high 174.2 innings.
Samardzija’s dominance wasn’t just limited to an under-performing Cubs staff, either, as the “Shark” had the second highest fastball velocity in the Majors, and his split-fingered fastball was generally regarded as one of the best in baseball.
The Cubs have already thrown extension numbers at Samardzija, with the team reportedly offering “well above” $30 Million for five years. Chris Cwik of CBS’ Eye on Baseball laid out a nifty chart (link here) of pitchers with similar service time that have signed extensions of at least $20 Million, including the White Sox recent signing of 23-year old Chris Sale to a 5 Year, $32.5 Million extension.
According to reports, Samardzija turned down the Cubs initial offer, and the two sides are far apart. Cwik believes that the Cubs offer is more than reasonable for a 28-year old coming off his first full season as a starter, and I tend to agree. The problem is Samardzija doesn’t.
The Cubs know that Samardzija wants to remain a Cubbie for life – that’s one of the worst kept secrets on the North Side. (He’s from nearby Valparaiso, in northwest Indiana, and calls Chicago his home.) The Cubs also know that Samardzija still holds the same faith in himself as he did on the day he decided to bypass instant fame and fortune in the NFL for a chance to fulfill his dream as a big league pitcher.
And that’s where the holdup comes in. Sure, Samardzija could accept the Cubs offer and become instantly richer, but if he goes out and tops his 2012 season, he may really get the payday he’s after.
When Hendry took a risk and gave Samardzija guaranteed money over six years ago, I had a hard time believing a collegiate football star would ever be a part of a contending Cubs team. Now it looks like Samardzija is on his way to becoming a core piece – alongside Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and the prospect trio of Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora – in the Cubs plan toward a championship.
When the Cubs are ready to compete, will Samardzija be around? Right now the two sides remain far apart, but both sides want to put pen to paper. Even if a deal doesn’t get done this season, Samardzija is likely to get a decent pay raise in his second year of Arbitration Eligibility, and at that point, extension talks could heat up again. I’m in the camp that thinks a deal does get done at some point this season. And it should.
Samardzija’s faith was proven once already. Now the Cubs should return the favor and show a little more faith in him, even if it means upping their price a little more. Jim Hendry did six years ago. Will Theo do the same?
*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of www.mlbreports.com and their partners.***
A big thank-you goes out to our ‘Cubs Correspondent’ Alex Kantecki for preparing today’s featured article. Alex is a Cubs fan to a fault. Sadly, his most memorable Cubs’ moment was watching the Cubs infamous 2003 postseason collapse while on a cruise somewhere in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. But because he’s a loyal fan, he didn’t jump ship. Alex has a degree in journalism (yay!) and currently writes for Fake Teams, Big Leagues Mag, Dobber Sports and Vigilante Baseball. Follow Alex on Twitter Follow @rotodealer
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Posted on March 27, 2013, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged @rotodealer on Twitter, albert almora, alex kantecki, alfonso soriano, anthony rizzo, chicago cubs, chris sale, college football, Javier Baez, jeff samardzija, Jim Hendry, jorge soler, matt garza, NL Central, notre dame football, ryan dempster, starlin castro, theo epstein, wrigley field. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.