The growing rumor mill rumbles regarding the possible return of right-handed pitcher Jeff Samardzija to the North Side are intriguing in more ways than one. The story is interesting, not only because the hurler rejected a lucrative contract offered by the Cubs in 2014, only to bounce through two consecutive clubs. After a terrible 2015 season with the Chicago White Sox, there’s something tidy about an older, wiser, somewhat chastened Samardzija returning to the team where he put up a 2.83 ERA before losing his way. There’s every reason to believe that pitching Coach Chris Bosio can work some of the same magic that he has with other members of the Cubs rotation – including newly minted Cy Young Award-winner Jake Arrieta.
Whether the Samardzija chatter comes to fruition will be an off-season storyline to watch, along with speculation about what else the great baseball mastermind that is Theo Epstein will do to shore up weaknesses on the mound and in center field. In my 37 year-old lifetime, I can’t recall enjoying a post-play stretch more than this one – the awards, the speculation and above all, the utter confidence in upper management to make the right moves. I don’t have to tell fellow members of Cubs Nation that the latter is a luxury of which beleaguered fans have been deprived for too long.
In 2014, the Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija and fellow pitcher Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics for 2012 first-round pick Addison Russell, 2013 first-round pick Billy McKinney, and a couple other, lesser players. Given the 2015 big league performance of Russell and the Double-A success of McKinney, it’s already clear that the Cubs got the better end of the deal. What’s more, Hammel returned to the North Side almost immediately after his short stint with the A’s and if Samardzija follows suit, it will end up that the Cubbies – quite literally – gave up nothing.
And that my friends is another delicious aspect to Cubs 2.0 under the leadership of Epstein and company. For oh so many torturous years, it was hard not to wonder about the mental capacity of those charged with brokering trades for the team. On a list of The 10 Worst Trades in Cubs History, my only argument with #7, the 1987 acquisition of underperformers Calvin Schiraldi and Al Nipper from the Red Sox, is that it should place higher. GM Jim Frey sent reliever Lee Smith packing, who went on to save 298 more games in a career marked with Hall of Fame potential. I was nine years old at the time, perhaps too young to immediately grasp the severity of the team’s mistake. But I had only to observe the red-faced, apoplectic reaction of my father Gregg to know the trade was very bad indeed.
Yes the Cubs legacy is blighted with the stains of dumb trades, but even those maneuvers are preferable to the ones where management let geniuses just walk away with nothing in return. Greg Maddux anyone? After winning his first Cy Young with the Cubbies in 1992, the team mishandled contract negotiations and Maddux left as a free agent – going on to win three more consecutive Cys with the Atlanta Braves. Sigh indeed. By that time, at 12 years old, I was painfully aware of the folly.
The Cubs have given their legions of fans many gifts in 2015. But the greatest of all is the big-picture, long-term strategic thinking that made Epstein a hero in Boston. It seems rather unlikely that this management team would perpetrate a Lee Smith/Greg Maddux – style debacle. Getting an even-to-better end of a deal? Who’d have thought? It really is a new era of hope and possibility in Cubs Nation.
Becky Sarwate is the current President of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, founded in 1885. She’s also a part-time freelance writer, award-winning columnist and blogger who lives in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago with her partner Bob and their beloved pup, Jude. Her collected works are published athttp://www.beckysarwate.com