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updated: 6/20/2014 5:33 AM

Cubs, Samardzija both making smart play

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  • Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija could very well be traded soon only to return as a free agent after the 2015 season.

      Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija could very well be traded soon only to return as a free agent after the 2015 season.
    Associated Press

 
 

We're all too familiar with bad guys in Chicago.

We know them when we see them, from mobsters and politicians, who often resemble one another, to players and owners, who force us to take sides and differentiate.

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Occasionally, rare as it may be, there is no villain in a conflict, and that is the case with the Cubs and Jeff Samardzija.

Samardzija is certain to be traded if the two sides can't come to terms on a new contract before July 31, and it's been clear for about a year that the two sides have substantially different opinions of his worth.

So let's start with what can't possibly happen.

Only a fool would let Samardzija pitch here until the fall of 2015 and then risk seeing him walk as a free agent, and Theo Epstein is no fool.

It's all about asset management in the Cubs' front office, and no one there is dumb enough to think this is a good idea, much as some fans would like to view this as an option.

So the Cubs' baseball boss has tried to get Samardzija to sign a pact that both pays Samardzija for what he will do in the future and also has the club assuming some risk.

The Cubs, to this point, have not offered Samardzija a contract worthy of a proven and healthy No. 1 starter, mostly because Samardzija has not proven to be all of those things for a long period of time.

Samardzija, on the other hand, believes he is precisely that and accepts some risk for the next year and three months, while believing that by then he will have shown baseball he is worth something in the neighborhood of six years and $120 million, or maybe seven years and $140 million.

Even after improving their offer to Samardzija recently -- merely due diligence by management as they took a final shot before trade talks get serious -- the Cubs are nowhere near ace money, putting on the table a deal for five years and roughly $85 million, a major-league source confirmed.

Samardzija, however, is betting on himself, and you have to admire his confidence and fearlessness. He knows he got a late start to pitching full time, has a young arm, thinks he'll stay healthy and pitch even better once he's dealt to a contender.

He wants to get to free agency and see what the market will bear, and thinks he'll be a hot commodity in November 2015, even though he'll be 31 when the 2016 season starts.

That being the case, the Cubs will wish him well and hope he gives them another chance to sign him when he hits the open market at the end of next season.

From the Cubs' perspective, both timing and age are a problem right now.

They don't know when they'll be competitive, and while they're willing to pay Samardzija for a couple of lean years knowing he can help them when they're ready to win, they would be assuming the risk that it's entirely a waste of money.

On the flip side, they're not comfortable under current circumstances paying Samardzija for years in his late 30s when he may no longer be the pitcher he is today and might be for the next few years.

The timing could be considerably better at the end of the 2015 baseball season when the Cubs should have a decent idea of when they can compete, and Samardzija will have a better feeling for his market value.

This could yet work out perfectly for both sides. Samardzija could go somewhere and win, and the Cubs could pick up a couple of prospects who become important parts of the core -- and maybe even future teammates if Samardzija returns.

There is no bad blood here. Both sides are being pragmatic, and both sides are making the smart play as they see it.

It is neither surprising nor dividing.

It's simply the beginning of the end -- but two years from now it might be remembered as the end of the beginning.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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