Post Tanaka: Cubs look for pitching, face Samardzija question

Post Tanaka: Cubs look for pitching, face Samardzija question
January 25, 2014, 11:45 am
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In Jeff Samardzija’s mind, signing Masahiro Tanaka would have silenced all that talk about the “R-word.”

But the New York Yankees blew the Cubs away with that seven-year, $155 million megadeal, the endgame insiders saw coming, despite the around-the-clock speculation on Twitter. In a winter filled with headlines about a furry mascot and the rooftop owners, Cubs fans had hoped for some good news.

“Rebuilding” will be the buzzword again when pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Arizona, where Samardzija will get the Matt Garza treatment and be at the center of all those trade rumors.

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“I’ve heard other chatter before,” Samardzija said last weekend at Cubs Convention. “Just before it was whether I was going to make the team or not, or be a starter or this or that.”

Samardzija believes he can be a No. 1 starter, and he has taken that mindset into negotiations over a long-term extension. Two seasons away from free agency, he sees where the market is pointing and wants to play for a contender.

The Cubs have essentially checked in with every free-agent pitcher this winter – including Jason Hammel and Paul Maholm – and will sign someone for the back of their rotation. But after submitting their final Tanaka bid – six years, $120 million, plus the $20 million release fee for his Japanese club – they plan to shift that money to next offseason.

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The Jim Hendry administration didn’t have that kind of flexibility with its budget, and Theo Epstein’s front office is going to need it when the price of pitching keeps skyrocketing.

Phil Hughes looked like a decent sign-and-flip guy, someone who’d want to prove himself on a one-year deal after going 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA for the Yankees. And then the Minnesota Twins gave him a three-year, $24 million contract.

Scott Feldman – last season’s sign-and-flip guy – left the Cubs on good terms and pitched well for the Baltimore Orioles (12-12, 3.86 ERA overall). Did anyone see him getting a three-year, $30 million deal from the Houston Astros?

The Los Angeles Dodgers are always thinking big now, and they gave Clayton Kershaw seven years, $215 million and an opt-out after five seasons.

“Clayton Kershaw won a couple Cy Youngs,” Samardzija said. “He had a 1.1 microscopic ERA. He went to the NLCS. He deserved every dollar he received. That’s what I was excited to see, a guy (who) worked hard and did everything you’re supposed to do.

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“I remember playing against him in Double-A in Knoxville when he was blowing fastballs by me there. I remember pitching against him and beating him a couple times. There’s a certain competition you have amongst each other and it’s great to see a great guy like him be rewarded for his hard work.”

Now that they’re not setting money aside for Tanaka, the Cubs can focus on finding a compromise with Samardzija on the arbitration numbers filed ($4.4 million vs. $6.2 million).

The Cubs had said Samardzija and Tanaka weren’t an either/or situation. Adding a 25-year-old pitcher who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles last season would have put the organization’s hazy timeline in high definition. We’ll never know if landing Tanaka could have generated new momentum in the Samardzija talks.

“Obviously, I’m hopeful,” Samardzija said. “I’ve said that from Day 1, ever since I signed my first contract here, that I wanted to be here. The only reason I’m not playing football is to come here and play in Chicago. It obviously means a lot for me to be here. That comes and goes with a lot of other factors, too.”