It appeared that it would happen all weekend long, but early Monday morning the news became all but official as reports came out that James Shields had agreed to a four-year deal with the San Diego Padres.
The report, which comes from Chris Cotillo of SB Nation, puts to an end a potential run by the Chicago Cubs to nab the starter off the free agent market. Originally the Cubs were priced out on Shields’ contract demands, but when the asking price started dipping and the amount of term being offered followed suit, the Cubs did their due diligence and “kicked the tires,” as just about every reporter following the situation said.
With Shields now off the market (unless something drastic) changes, it leads to an interesting question: do the Cubs continue to pursue another starting pitcher, or should they stand pat? There are still options via the trade market, with the Washington Nationals potentially looking to unload a starter after signing Max Scherzer to a massive deal. A guy like Jordan Zimmermann or Stephen Strasburg would look great in the Cubs’ rotation, although the cost in prospects may be something that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer would hesitate to pay.
Another possibility is a fresh push to get Cole Hamels from the Philadelphia Phillies. There are likely still teams out there interested in acquiring him, including the St. Louis Cardinals, but getting a guy with his track record and skill set for a somewhat discounted price (trading for him with fewer years and money than they would have to pay him on the open market) could be an intriguing possibility for the Cubs.
If neither of those options proves to be feasible, the Cubs could simply go into spring training with what they have and still have an improved rotation. Adding Jon Lester and Jason Hammel via free agency bolstered the rotation in a big way, and having guys like Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, and Travis Wood in the mix for starting spots means that the Cubs will have some healthy competition out in Mesa to determine how the rotation shakes out.
The Chicago Cubs are done adding pitchers with hefty price tags this offseason, but with the price tag on one free agent dropping down to more reasonable levels, the team could be pulling the trigger on a move after all.
For those that can’t read the tweet, here’s the gist of Kaplan’s argument: the Cubs have been waiting for the market to take shape for Shields, and it’s becoming apparent at this point that he’s not going to get a contract worth more than $100 million this close to spring training. With teams preparing to report in two weeks (!), he’s looking to make a decision by the end of the week, and his history with Joe Maddon could make Chicago an attractive landing spot.
With those things in mind, a Shields signing would make perfect sense for the Cubs under the right parameters. If the deal is going to be in the three year range, the Cubs should jump on it and offer him as much money yearly as they want. A four-year deal would still work too, but going over $20 million per season would probably be a bit much.
The reason for an aggressive push if the term of the deal is right is simple: the Cubs don’t have a ton of salary on the books for the next few years as some of their impact players have cheap deals. Guys like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, and Addison Russell are all on really cheap deals during that time, and if two or three of them pan out as advertised (still a sizable if, but a much more reasonable thought than the notion that all four will be stars), having a guy like Shields added to the rotation could make the Cubs a serious contender during that time.
If Shields was paired up with Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, the Cubs would have a rotation that would rival anything that an NL Central foe could throw out there, and they’d likely have one of the top five or six rotations in all of baseball. When coupled with the offense that the team is potentially going to have with guys like Miguel Montero added to the fold, and their dreams of making Back to the Future 2 could be much closer to reality than fans dare hope.
* = Kaplan is fairly plugged in with the Cubs, but he also has occasional misses (as do most reporters), so take this and all reports of activity on the North Side with a grain of salt.
The Chicago Cubs are not only starting to make some real progress on the field, but apparently the emergence of players like Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks, and Jorge Soler this season has caused more fans to tune into games. Here is what Ed Sherman had to say on the subject:
“With the three young players leading the way, the Cubs’ 6-3 victory over Milwaukee did a 3.20 rating on Comcast SportsNet Wednesday. That means an estimated 115,000 homes tuned into an otherwise meaningless September game for the Cubs.”
The Cubs ended up being the third-highest viewed program in the Chicago area on Wednesday night, and those ratings spikes are coming at a good time. With renegotiation with WGN ongoing for their TV rights, as well as the possibility of a massive new TV deal in 2019, the Cubs are going to be looking to increase their footprint, and this is a good start.
Theo Epstein has also brought up how getting more money from television and other sources will impact the team’s ability to compete when he discussed their plans for the year ahead:
“As we get closer to a new television deal, and as we realize some of the revenues associated with a renovated Wrigley Field, I believe that will only enhance our flexibility.”
With work set to begin on those renovations in the next few weeks, and with players like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell still primed to be called up next season, things are about to start accelerating quickly for the Cubs on multiple fronts, and clearly fans are tuning in to see the progress that the team has made over three lackluster seasons.
The Chicago Cubs’ pitching rotation was supposed to become a weak point of the squad after they dealt away Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in a blockbuster July trade, but despite the loss of two of their top pitchers, the team’s staff has remained a strength rather than a liability.
Now, with just a few weeks left in the season and numerous games remaining against teams in the playoff hunt, the Cubs will apparently be going with a six-man rotation for at least the next few weeks. According to Chicago Cubs Online, the team will have Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, Felix Doubront, Travis Wood, and Jacob Turner as their starters for at least two starts apiece, and Dan Straily and Eric Jokisch, who were both called up by the team as the roster expanded to 40 players, could each get a start sometime before the end of the campaign as well.
The decision to start six pitchers instead of five has several benefits, not the least of which is to give guys like Turner and Doubront a chance to showcase their stuff. Arrieta and Hendricks are both going to be part of the rotation next season, and in all likelihood Wood will be as well. Unless the Cubs make an insane splash and add several guys to the rotation from outside the organization (something that Theo Epstein hasn’t explicitly ruled out doing, but still seems unlikely anyway), a guy like Doubront or Turner could feasibly become the fourth or fifth starter to begin next season.
Aside from those two, the guy that will be most intriguing to watch is Wada. In nine starts with the Cubs so far, Wada has a 4-2 record, a 2.79 ERA, and has a WHIP of 1.084. His SO9 is a respectable 7.7, and his strikeout to walk ratio of 3.14 is just as impressive. The 33-year old could be the type of guy the Cubs could feasibly trade for younger pitching help, and giving him a chance to showcase his stuff at least a few more times is a savvy move by Epstein and company.
Hendricks will be the next Cubs pitcher to take the bump when he tries to help the Cubs sweep the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field.
After taking a day off Thursday, I resumed my baseball odyssey around Phoenix by travelling to…..Cubs Park in Mesa. Yes, I’d already been there and seen all the sights on Tuesday, but I looked forward to seeing the team take on a very tough opponent in the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cubs somehow were able to win the game against a lineup that featured just about all of the Dodgers’ hitting threats and Josh Beckett pitching against the North Siders, and after the 5-4 win, I had some reactions to what I saw on the diamond.
Back in 2006 when the Chicago Cubs drafted pitcher Jeff Samardzija in the fifth round of the amateur draft, it was tough to tell how fans should feel.
After all, this was a pitcher who had limited stuff when it came to variety of pitches, with only a fastball really at his full command. He also was a standout wide receiver at the University of Notre Dame, and the odds were strong that he could have made it in an NFL career if he had chosen to do so.
Instead, Samardzija opted to go the baseball route, and he slowly made his way through the Cubs’ minor league system. He didn’t blow anybody away in his first few years of minor league ball, going 6-11 with a 4.57 ERA in 2007 in high-A and AA, and in 2008 he went 7-6 with a 4.29 ERA in 21 starts between AA and AAA.
Those numbers aren’t all that impressive, but the Cubs opted to call him up anyway, and in 26 games with the North Siders in 2008, Samardzija had a really nice 2.28 ERA out of the bullpen, and struck out nearly a batter per inning.
It really hasn’t been until he’s become a full-time starter in the big leagues that he has really earned his keep at this level. In 61 starts between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Samardzija has struck out 394 batters in 388 1/3 innings, and his 3.81 ERA in 2012 and 4.34 ERA in 2013 are actually solid numbers for a guy who plays on a defensively weak club.
It is perhaps those kinds of strikeout numbers that have emboldened Samardzija to seek the kind of money in restricted free agency that he is asking the Cubs for. When the two sides exchanged arbitration numbers earlier this month, Samardzija asked for $6.2 million, while the Cubs offered him just $4.4 million.
With the pitcher still two years away from unrestricted free agency, the Cubs are left in a bit of a pickle when it comes to what to do with Samardzija. The difference between the two figures the sides have exchanged may not seem like a lot, but the Cubs’ only giving Samardzija 75% of what he asked for is an interesting choice.
ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers has more on the subject:
“If he were a free agent, even with a 4.34 ERA in 2013, he’d be commanding $10 million or more a season.
“He wants that kind of money now – in fact, he wants more than that – and in exchange he’ll play for a losing team while putting off free agency, which as of now would happen after the 2015 season. The Cubs will skip his arbitration years and pay him a decent salary, but they aren’t going to give him, say, $15 million a year, not now. Unlike the relatively small difference – just $1.8 million – in their requests for 2014, the long-term deal could be the difference in tens of millions of dollars. Neither side is budging.”
If Samardzija actually has visions in his head of getting a deal worth $15 million a season (and there’s no confirmation of this kind of demand other than Rogers’ hypothetical scenario), then the Cubs aren’t likely going to be the team to give it to him. Samardzija just turned 29 years old last week, and with a new regime in place that seems to have a focus on getting the most out of guys as they hit their prime, rather than paying them for past performance, it doesn’t seem likely that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are going to commit that kind of paper to a guy who will be turning 30 next year.
With that in mind, the question could ultimately come down to when, not if, the Cubs will unload Samardzija in a trade. Hoyer has shown a knack for getting some great value for solid starting pitchers during his time in Chicago (see: the Scott Feldman and Matt Garza trades, which netted some fantastic results), and if he decides that it’s time to part ways with Samardzija, there are surely a good number of teams that would desire his services.
With teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks and Toronto Blue Jays both in a better position to contend than the Cubs are, they could be willing to pay a high enough price to entice the Cubs to pull the trigger on a deal before the season even starts. If the Cubs have no interest in signing Samardzija to a long-term deal, it would make sense for them to settle before his case gets to arbitration, preserve his final year of arbitration eligibility by not giving him a longer-term deal, then trade him away with the maximum amount of time before he can hit free agency.
Of course, the Cubs will likely eschew that strategy, and will probably wait to deal him until it’s closer to the July 31st trade deadline. That is partly out of a desire to get more for him (an 8-13 record with a 4.34 ERA isn’t exactly stellar, and teams may be more lax to give up on top prospects to acquire him because of it), but it also would fall in line with the team’s current needs. The Cubs aren’t exactly talent rich in terms of starting pitchers, and they may want to buy more time for guys like Kyle Hendricks to get more innings under their belts in AAA before calling them up to the majors.
Guys like CJ Edwards and Pierce Johnson are still a couple of years away from being full-time big leaguers, so keeping Samardzija in the fold for a little while longer might make more sense to Hoyer and company than trading him before the season begins.
Needless to say, it will be interesting to see what the team decides to do with Samardzija, but whatever decision they make, it will provide a lot of insight into how the club is approaching the 2014 season and beyond.
You can follow James on Twitter @jamesneveau if you’re into that sort or thing, or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.