The Cubs split the series against the Yankees, as we all know by now. The way they split it was the reverse of what most of us would have predicted though, as the Cubs beat Masahiro Tanaka and lost another Jeff Samardzija start.
Then again…given what’s happened so far this season, maybe that wasn’t so unpredictable.
See, the Cubs haven’t scored very many runs for Jeff this season. Call it bad luck, but the way Jeff has “not won” this season has been nothing short of spectacularly heartbreaking. Even before Wednesday, when he shut out the Yankees through seven innings while lowering his league-leading ERA to 1.46, the Cubs offense has switched off with Jeff on the mound. In the start before the ultimate loss against the Yankees, the Cubs defense failed almost as badly as the offense to drop Jeff’s record to 0-4 for the season. A number of silly factors led to Wednesday’s loss when Jeff should have finally broke through on the win column.
It’s really no wonder that the prevailing narrative is that Jeff Samardzija is on his way out, and that he probably can’t wait to get the hell out of Chicago. I admit that I’m continuing to track various contending teams’ progress, including that of the Toronto Blue Jays (who beat the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night). The Jays are one of the most likely trade destinations for Jeff Samardzija as they are currently in a virtual tie for first place in the American League East with the New York Yankees. The Cubs, on the other hand, have amazingly dropped below even the Houston Astros for the worst record in Major League Baseball. That’s right…we’re already checking out the reverse standings because the Cubs are a) going to miss the playoffs, which is a given and b) have a shot at a really early pick, possibly even the top pick, in next year’s draft. And the unfortunate thing, despite what I’d like to happen, is that Jeff Samardzija’s days as a Cub are numbered.
I really can’t blame Jeff if he goes along with this narrative. The gist from that Patrick Mooney article is framed as Jeff wanting to eventually become a Yankee. While the Yankees probably don’t have the kind of prospect package that the Cubs would want in exchange, they do have tons of money and can afford to pay Jeff like C.C. Sabathia (but not as fat, though I concede CC looks great since he lost all that weight, and broken). The way he’s setting up the quotes for these stories suggests to me that Jeff can’t wait to be traded, hopefully to a destination like Toronto whose farm can still cough up some legitimate top-flight prospects. And it also makes it unlikely that Jeff would return to the Cubs after a trade unless something spectacular happens. Think about it…the Cubs are rebuilding and trying to stockpile assets while hoping that their top prospects graduate into impact major league players, and if you were a blossoming ace-level pitcher, would you want to wait around for that?
This may be the legacy of Jeff Samardzija as a Cub. He’s going to contribute to the next Cubs pennant not as a hometown player, but in the form of an elite prospect-turned-star (like Marcus Stroman, I hope). Without a huge turnaround this season or at least some assurance that the front office intends to add on soon, there’s little incentive for Samardzija to stay around even though he is still under club control. And the Cubs have to maximize the player value, whether that’s with an extension or a trade while Samardzija still has more than a year of control left. The best news for the Cubs right now is that Jeff is pitching like a man possessed and he’s going to bring back a bounty.
I’d rather they kept Jeff Samardzija around and build the rotation around him, but I’m prepping myself for the inevitable goodbye, just as we’ve all done since the past offseason. As Cubs fans, we’ll have to hope that the narrative changes soon after the trade so players clamor to stay in Chicago rather than to wait for a way out.