Start it up: Samardzija could get his wish in 2012

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Start it up: Samardzija could get his wish in 2012

Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011Posted: 5:00 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
Box Score
WATCH: Lopez glad to get his team the win
READ: Starlin Castro feels right at home in Chicago

Once Jeff Samardzija committed to baseball, he had a clear idea of who he should be. Even as he struggled to establish himself in the big leagues, he wasnt shy about expressing his desire to be a starter.

Whatever the reasons a glaring need for rotation help, a weak free-agent class, Samardzijas growth as a pitcher the Cubs are gradually coming around to his way of thinking.

Even manager Mike Quade whos consistently said that Samardzijas more suited to being a reliever seems to have softened that stance.

There are plenty of reasons for people to mull over that and think about that possibility, Quade said Saturday. It looks like we need some starting pitching (and) its not rocket science (to) think about guys that have done it before.

Its like anything else around here just stay focused on finishing what youre doing now. (Hes) a big, strong guy. Could that be a possibility? Absolutely.

There are way too many variables to make a definitive statement, because there will be a new general manager with his own viewpoint. That executive will also decide the fates of the manager and his coaching staff.

Next year is the only prism through which you can view these games.

Rodrigo Lopez a 35-year-old who began the season pitching for Atlantas Triple-A affiliate gave up one run across six innings. Bryan LaHair a Pacific Coast League MVP at the age of 28 smashed the go-ahead homer. The Cubs hung on to beat the last-place Houston Astros 2-1 on Saturday at Wrigley Field.

Everybody knows Im fighting for a job next year, trying to find a spot somewhere, Lopez said afterward. Its very to important to finish strong and go home with a good feeling and make a case to get a job.

LaHair has forced the issue by hitting .433 (13-for-30) with seven walks in 11 games since his September call-up. He made an error in right field on Saturday as well as a nice running catch at the warning track. The Cubs (67-85) have a surplus of outfielders, but could need a first baseman if they dont re-sign Carlos Pena.

Lopez is now 6-6 with a 4.71 ERA and hit six innings for the second time in almost two months. The Cubs will have to at least explore some in-house options for the 2012 rotation, and much will depend on Andrew Cashners health.

Lets make sure we dont let a potential high-end starter just wind up in the bullpen without taking a shot, Quade said. It made perfect sense (this year). Its a damn shame he got hurt because we all wanted to see that experiment. Maybe it starts up again this winter.

Samardzija has pitched so well out of the bullpen 7-4 with a 3.06 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 85.1 innings that the Cubs have started to think there could be more there.

Samardzija will be 27 next season and has already made the club options for 2012 and 2013 believed to be worth 6.5 million total seem like almost automatic pick-ups.

At this time last year, reporters were asking the former Notre Dame All-American if the start of football season made him re-think his decision. Now the sense is that Samardzija will be a big part of the 2012 Cubs.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Report: Aroldis Chapman returns to Yankees on five-year deal

Report: Aroldis Chapman returns to Yankees on five-year deal

After helping bring a World Series title back to the North Side, Aroldis Chapman is headed back to New York.

The former Cubs closer signed a five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees, according to FOX's Ken Rosenthal.

He was acquired by the Cubs in July in exchange for pitcher Adam Warren and prospects Rashad Crawford, Billy McKinney and Gleyber Torres.

Chapman notched 36 saves and owned a 1.01 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and recorded 90 strikeouts across 26 2/3 innings with the Cubs during the regular season.

He appeared in 13 postseason contests, where he registered a 3.45 ERA,1.09 WHIP and 21 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings. 

Why Cubs felt like they had to trade Jorge Soler now

Why Cubs felt like they had to trade Jorge Soler now

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Before making the blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade with the New York Yankees, the Cubs checked in with the Kansas City Royals about Wade Davis and found the asking price to be Kyle Schwarber. 

The psychology and the supply-and-demand dynamics are different in July. Schwarber had been damaged goods, still recovering from major knee surgery and months away from his dramatic return in the World Series. Davis also could have impacted two pennants races for his new team instead of one.
 
By the time a $10 billion industry reconvened this week outside Washington, D.C., for the winter meetings, the small-market Royals could compromise with Jorge Soler, betting on his long-term upside and facing the reality that their World Series closer could have been part of a mass exodus of free agents after the 2017 season.

The Cubs also checked into the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center knowing that Soler is a diminishing asset for a loaded team at a time when his best attribute – right-handed power – could be found on the free-agent market in sluggers like Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo.  
     
“I think there’s some great baseball ahead for him,” team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday night after the Cubs finalized the Soler-for-Davis trade. “I think it’s more likely that he reaches his ceiling now than it was 24 hours ago, because he’s got a chance to play every day.” 

Soler became a top priority within the first weeks of the Epstein administration as Cubs officials scouted the Cuban defector in the Dominican Republic before Thanksgiving 2011, picturing him as a building block for future playoff teams at a renovated Wrigley Field. 

Even chairman Tom Ricketts met with Soler’s camp during a trip to the Dominican Republic before the Cubs won the bidding war and the prospect signed a nine-year, $30 million major-league contract in the summer of 2012. 

Years later, manager Joe Maddon would describe Soler as Vladimir Guerrero with plate discipline, the kind of talent who would be drafted No. 1 overall if he had been born in South Florida. 

Soler showed flashes of superstar potential. He absolutely crushed the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2015 playoffs (2.341 OPS) and will get a well-deserved World Series ring. But he didn’t look like a complete player or an athlete the Cubs could count on to stay healthy, profiling more like a designated hitter in the American League.

“When George was playing sporadically, he became a little bit more of an all-or-nothing power threat,” Epstein said, “because it’s hard to get into a good rhythm and you’re not seeing pitches as much. You’re not recognizing spin the same way. 

“When he’s locked in, he can work really good at-bats. And he’s a hitter – not just a power hitter. So I think it’s more likely now that his potential gets unleashed at some point. We’re rooting for him.”

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Maybe Soler – who still hasn’t turned 25 yet – can avoid some of the leg injuries as a part-time DH and put it all together in Kansas City as the Royals try to balance the present, the future and their financial realities. But the Cubs are a win-now team that believes Davis could get them the final out of the 2017 World Series. 

An October legend (Schwarber) and a $184 million Gold Glove defender (Jason Heyward) would keep blocking Soler at the corner spots in Wrigley Field, where a National League MVP (Kris Bryant) and a World Series MVP (Ben Zobrist) can move away from the infield. Javier Baez is another versatile, well-rounded player who would continue to marginalize Soler. 

“It became tough for us,” Epstein said, “with Schwarber looking like he’s destined to play quite a bit of left field. Not ruling catching out as an option to some extent, but he’s going to play a lot of left field. 

“And with Javy’s emergence – and what that means for Zobrist’s possible role in the outfield as well at times – it just became tougher and tougher to see George getting regular at-bats with us. 

“We felt like he needed to play – and it would have been a tough fit.”

It would have been even tougher to trade a spare outfielder during his fourth season in the big leagues. Stashing Soler – who has 27 career homers in less than 700 big-league at-bats – at Triple-A Iowa wouldn’t have been the answer. 

The Cubs saw this day coming. Schwarber wrecked his knee in early April and Soler injured his hamstring two months later and wound up missing two months.

“He just couldn’t quite stay healthy enough,” Epstein said, “and kind of slumped at the wrong time and started to get hot right before he got hurt.

“That was kind of how we envisioned it: ‘Hey, if there’s an opportunity, this guy can take the job and run with it – and then we have an even more valuable trade chip – or we’ve got an everyday leftfielder/middle-of the-order bat.’ It just didn’t quite come together. 

“But I think this trade – despite that – recouped a lot of his value. It made sense for him, for us and for the Royals.”