With the MLB winter meetings in Orlando beginning a week from Sunday, teams are engaged in substantive talks regarding trades and signings that could lay the groundwork for a flurry of moves over the next few weeks.
When the Tigers dealt Prince Fielder to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler it caught many in the game by surprise, but other significant names could be on the move with the free agent crop being one of the weakest in recent memory.
The Cubs are shopping starter Jeff Samardzija and as many as eight teams have shown considerable interest in landing the right-hander, who is not eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season. The front office has had discussions with Samardzija's camp regarding a long-term contract extension, but the two sides are far apart financially.
On Wednesday, major league sources who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed to me that the front runners to land Samardzija in a trade are the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks, with the price according to one evaluator being extremely significant.
"I don't see him throwing another pitch in a Cubs uniform. I think it's 99 percent that he gets moved. They're not ready to win and he brings you the young pitching you need for the future," said a major league source.
"Samardzija is a really good trade candidate if you believe you are close to winning for several reasons. One, he is under your control for two more seasons. Two, he is extremely durable with no hint of an injury history. Plus, because of his football career he does not have as much mileage in his arm that most pitchers his age have. Three, he is a great clubhouse guy and he shows leadership which should make his transition to a new clubhouse an easy one. Add in the fact that the guy is a big time competitor and I would have no hesitation in acquiring him," he told me.
Another scout likes Samardzija's makeup and durability but does not believe that he has the complete package to be a top of the rotation starter.
"I like the guy a lot but the price is really high and I think in the AL he is a No. 3 starter. He doesn't show me the consistency that I need in a top end guy and to acquire him, Theo and Jed are asking for a top end price. However, pitching is so hard to find that teams will give up a lot betting that his best days are ahead of him."
Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka's availability could have a major impact on Samardzija and a potential trade because so many teams are bidding on him, and with only one winner of his rights, the rest will be chasing potential high end arms. An NL scout who has evaluated both Samardzija and Tanaka sees the offseason playing out this way.
"I love Tanaka but here is what you have to ask yourself as a GM. Tanaka hasn't been cleared yet for a posting process. I expect him to indeed be available but the posting could take 30 days to determine a winner. That pushes us to January 1 and if you hang around trying to land him and you come up short most of the available top arms will already been gone. Then what do you do? Unless money was no object and I was prepared to overpay significantly to guarantee that I landed Tanaka, I would give up more than I might want to for Samardzija because he is under my control for two seasons and I won't have to wait out the Tanaka circus."
Rumors of a possible Cubs deal with Baltimore have been speculated for a couple of weeks and Orioles catcher Matt Wieters has been linked to a possible Samardzija deal. However, keep in mind that Wieters is represented by Scott Boras and he is a free agent after the 2015 season. Wieters has rebuffed contract extension talks with Baltimore and is looking to sign a monster deal in 2016. So, why would you give up your most valuable pitching asset for a catcher who wants to test free agency in two years, and when you have a tremendous need to add young, impact level starting pitching? Most scouts I have spoken with do not expect the Cubs to trade for Wieters unless he was part of a much larger deal that also included young starting pitching that is nearly MLB ready.
The Diamondbacks and the Blue Jays both have high end starting pitching prospects in their minor-league systems and are dangling impressive prospects in front of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer in hopes of landing Samardzija. Toronto has Aaron Sanchez, while the Diamondbacks have Archie Bradley and Tyler Skaggs. However, Arizona general manager Kevin Towers has consistently maintained that Bradley is a non-starter in any trade talks. Whether he remains that steadfast depends on how badly he wants Samardzija because as every baseball source I spoke with said, the price is really high and with the supply of big time arms very low, the price keeps going up.