Even though Jeff Samardzija, at the present moment in time, is still a member of the Chicago Cubs, you had to know this was coming. With the Cubs wanting to extend Samardzija, and him allegedly wanting to be paid like a 20 game winning ace pitcher, you had to know his days as a Cub were numbered. They just simply cannot justify paying Samardzija the salary demands he is apparently asking for.
Rumors continue to come in about the Cubs seriously shopping Samardzija, and while rumors often tend to be nothing more than kindling for the hot stove, there is more than enough smoke to know that there is a fire somewhere on the horizon. Chances are very good that Samardzija has pitched his very last game as a member of the Cubs, and will be wearing a different uniform by the time Spring Training rolls around. The Cubs will not be giving him away though, as reports also suggest that the asking price for their pitcher will be rather large. The Cubs want three or four top prospects for him, one of which might just be major league ready.
The question that remains though, outside of what the Cubs will be getting for their pitching, is what will the rotation look like without Samardzija?
Currently, there are only two pitchers who are likely guaranteed to be a part of the 2014 rotation, that being Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson. Neither one of them is a true Ace, despite Dale Sveum’s assertion that Wood was “pretty much the best pitcher in the National League”, but then again, neither is Samardzija. That leaves three spots open in the rotation.
Carlos Villanueva is the odds on favorite to fill one of the three voids. He pitched admirably opening the season, and took his demotion to the bullpen in stride. He always pitched well enough in spot starts after the demotion to justify his getting a look as being almost a sure thing to break camp as a starter for the 2014 rotation.
With Wood, Jackson and Villanieva as almost locks for the rotation, that leaves only two spots to fill. In my opinion, there are only four in house candidates who will even be considered to fill those voids. Those four would be Justin Grimm, Jake Arrieta, Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley. Many fans may be calling for C. J. Edwards to get a look, but he is not quite ready to jump up to the big leagues, despite the performances he has been able to put together.
Since I am not the Manager of the Cubs, and definitely not the General Manager, all I can do is make assumptions on what I believe will happen going forward. That assumption is that Grimm (like Villanueva) is almost a lock to exit Spring Training as a starting pitcher for the 2014 team, which means that Arrieta will be in competition with Rusin and Raley for that fifth spot. I think that spot will be Arrieta’s to lose.
I do not know about you, but a rotation of Wood, Jackson, Villanueva, Grimm and Arrieta (or either Rusin or Raley) does not look to be too intimidating. Not too many teams will lose sleep at night dreading facing the Cubs pitching staff next year. If the Cubs do indeed keep Samardzija, that rotation is significantly better but still not great. Of course the Cubs still could dip their toe into free agency and try to find a starting pitcher, but chances are if they do, they will not find one that will be considered a number one or two pitcher. The one free agent I can see the Cubs re-signing would be Scott Baker. He would also like be one who would knock out Arrieta, Raley or Rusin from competition.
Of course, this rotation could completely change in a number of situations. If one of the pitchers the Cubs do get in the trade of Samardzija is a major league ready starting pitcher, that would almost certainly knock Arrieta, Rusin and Raley out of the competition for the fifth starting job. They would also be knocked out of competition if the Cubs do sign a free agent starting pitcher, or if they even decide to keep Samardzija all together. I would not, however, expect the Cubs to both keep Samardzija and sign a free agent starter.
I hate to be the barer of bad news, but with or without Samardzija on the 2014 Cubs roster, the pitcher rotation is nothing close to dominating. The one thing the Cubs have lacked, even with the new found strong farm system, is strong pitching depth in the minor league system. They have some very nice prospects at the various positions on the infield and outfield, but as far as pitching goes, their system is still very flawed. There may be a few gems in the lower levels, but they are still at least a year or two away.
Life after Samardzija might not look to pretty at the moment, but until we find out what they are getting in return, making a judgment is rather hard. Perhaps they will be able to grab some top pitching prospects from whichever organization pulls the trigger on a deal. Until then, while the post Samardzija rotation does not look that good, that is all we have to look forward to.