The Chicago Cubs' chances for a contract extension with starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija could rest on the team's ability to sign Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka, reports Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Rumors have been circling around Samardzija for much of the offseason as Chicago has been looking into either extending or trading him. However, the right-hander has been hesitant to sign a long-term deal with the franchise due in part to the team's current position as a rebuilding squad.
‘‘I’ve mentioned my frustration with the ‘R’ word before," Samardzija told reporters about the Cubs rebuilding effort. "You bring [Tanaka] in, and that ‘R’ word essentially kind of disintegrates.’’
Samardzija wants to play for a team that can win in the short-term, which the Cubs currently are not in a position to do barring a number of moves. Even with Tanaka, the Cubs may struggle to compete against the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds in the NL Central. The Cubs do have an outstanding farm system, however. Big bats like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Alberto Almora and Jorge Soler all could be producing in the majors within the next few years.
The team does have a shortage of top arms in their farm system, though. That's where Tanaka would come in as he could help supplement the young hitters. However, with a seemingly bright future ahead for the Cubs even without Tanaka, Samardzija wants to see an effort to win now before signing a deal.
Chicago has also looked into trading their current top starter with both the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays showing interest. The Cubs have been hampered in trade talks by an unusually slow market for pitchers this offseason as players like Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza remain unsigned. Further hurting their chances for a deal is the Cubs own price for Samardzija, reportedly much more than any team is willing to offer. It appears as if everyone is waiting to see where Tanaka heads and what he gets in a contract before deciding on any other pitchers.
Tanaka still has until Jan. 24 before he must either agree to a deal with a major league team or return to Japan for another year. The Cubs have been one of the most aggressive teams in pursuit, though they may not be able to outbid the Yankees and Dodgers, both of whom are also pushing hard.
The Cubs certainly don't have to make a decision on Samardzija this offseason, either. He still has two years of team control remaining and thus will not become a free agent until after the 2015 season. However, now is when they may get the most value either in a trade or an extension.
Samardzija, 28, started his major league career as a reliever, but has worked as a starter each of the past two years. He posted a 3.81 ERA in 2012 and a 4.34 ERA in 2013, with a 1.29 WHIP between them. He'll strike out a batter per inning with fair walk numbers and is often perceived as having ace-caliber stuff. However, he's likely closer to a number three pitcher on a good staff.