The Cubs are at a standstill with the Jeff Samardzija talks and as much as they like him, he has little worth to a rebuilding team on what amounts to a 2 year deal.
On the other hand, a team like the Blue Jays could have a lot of use for him. For the first time in recent memory, the AL East is up for grabs. All 5 teams have a negative run differential with the first place Yankees being among the worst at -13. 3 games separate first and last place. The Yankees have an overpaid, overrated roster, the Red Sox free agent foray appears to have a one year shelf life, the Rays seem to be lacking their usual magic, and the Orioles are decent but certainly beatable.
The Blue Jays are right there in the thick of it. They lack a starter and are considering recalling Marcus Stroman -- but it seems the Cubs were there scouting his last start. We know the Jays have always liked Samardzija and his early season performance only seems to solidify that he has become an established starter with the kind of stuff that can play in any division, especially in this watered down AL East.
The Cubs reportedly asked for both top pitching prospects this past offseason- Stroman and Aaron Sanchez-- and were rebuffed.
But could the deal be expanded?
The Jays have had more problems than being one starter short. Their bullpen has been a disaster and their 2nd base position makes the Cubs look like they're starting all-stars. They just called up Chris Getz to fill the position after Ryan Goins struggled mightily.
The Cubs have some potential pieces to sweeten the deal. I'm not sure the Jays want another crack at Emilio Bonifacio, who struggled terribly with them last year in what was arguably the worst 1/2 season of his career. The Jays also waived Luis Valbuena, whom the Cubs picked up on waivers and has put up a .377 OBP this season. He'd probably be starting for them now at 2B, at least against RHP. Then, of course, there is Darwin Barney who may not seem like much right now but Getz is a replacement level player and Barney could at least offer Gold Glove caliber defense with similar offense. He's also had an improved approach (13.5% walk rate) which could show dividends with regular ABs.
As for the bullpen the Cubs have a lot of up and coming arms, the first of which, Neil Ramirez, just performed superbly in a high leverage role. Hector Rondon has taken over the closer role and Grimm has been one of the 8th inning guys. Could the Cubs afford to part with Pedro Strop or rehabbing closer Jose Veras? Wesley Wright is wresting the lefty set up role from the usually steady James Russell. Could either player interest the Jays?
The Cubs also have young power arms on the way that can fill in. Brian Schlitter is back and so is lefty Zac Rosscup. Blake Parker is dominating at Iowa and would almost certainly be recalled in the event of a trade. Hard-throwing RHPs Marcus Hatley and Alberto Cabrera are pitching well enough to get a shot and further down the line the Cubs have Armando Rivero and Arodys Vizcaino, who are the most talented duo mentioned here. The Cubs also have lefty starters Chris Rusin, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Eric Jokisch who could replace Samardzija in the rotation or could be tried in the bullpen as well, Another LHP, Hunter Cervenka, has been very effective in AA as a reliever. Kyle Hendricks would be another candidate to replace Samardzija in addition to any pitchers they may get from the Jays. Though Samardzija would be a huge loss, I don't think the Cubs would have any trouble replacing veterans in the bullpen or 2B -- and they have multiple options to fill Samardzija's spot and take his innings until they can find a pitcher who can replace him long term at the top of their rotation.
As for what the Cubs would want, it's very obvious -- young pitching -- and the Jays have plenty of that even beyond Stroman and Sanchez. Lower level SPs Alberto Tirado and Daniel Norris (L), also standout as pitchers with high end potential. MLB ready Sean Nolin has a lower ceiling (#4 starter) but is MLB ready and excelling in AAA (1.96 ERA, 3.30 FIP). While those losses would be painful for the Jays, we should remember that they can replace one high level prospect with the 1st round pick they'll get if they lose Samardzija to free agency. It's pretty safe to say that the ultra-competitive Samardzija will not sign with one of the worst 10 teams in baseball.
There is a lot of flexibility to make a deal here. The two teams match up extremely well. The Cubs could get their young pitching prospects they crave and the Jays could shore up their rotation, bullpen, and second base while also getting a likely 1st round pick. The AL East is there for the taking and the Jays have a short window to win now.
A deal between the two teams just makes too much sense right now.
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