The White Sox have such a complex about the Cubs that it’s almost impossible to see them trading Jeff Samardzija back to the North Side.
The Cubs already have the iconic ballpark, the star manager and the team living up to the offseason hype. Why would the White Sox want to help the Cubs this summer and guarantee all the baseball buzz stays in Wrigleyville?
Especially when the Cubs believe they are at the beginning of a long run as contenders and the White Sox are so sensitive to the idea of being the city’s other team.
It’s still the perfect topic for a crosstown series that began three weeks out from the July 31 trade deadline. Even if the White Sox brass — chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, executive vice president Kenny Williams and general manager Rick Hahn — hasn’t fully committed to the idea of selling yet.
The official position statement from Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer:
“I know that we’re in the same city,” Hoyer said before Friday’s 1-0 loss to the White Sox. “I know that might make it difficult. But certainly the last three years we would have been able to have a conversation with them. I don’t think they’re at the point yet where they feel like they’re there. But we would obviously be willing to talk to them.
“Listen, we’ve known Kenny and Rick for a long time. They do a great job over there. And if it came to discussing players, we’d certainly do it.”
In terms of financial flexibility, the Cubs are believed to have no more than a few million dollars stored up for this summer. Samardzija is owed less than half of this year’s $9.8 million salary before he looks to make a splash in free agency.
This is Year 4 for the Theo Epstein administration, which views last year’s Fourth of July blockbuster as a major turning point for the franchise. The Cubs packaged Samardzija and Jason Hammel in a deal with the Oakland A’s that yielded two former first-round picks in Addison Russell and Billy McKinney.
The Cubs still need pitching, even after getting good news on Hammel, who lasted only one inning against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, leaving with left hamstring tightness.
An MRI revealed no significant damage, leading the Cubs to project Hammel won’t go on the disabled list and will be able to start the fifth game after the All-Star break (against the Cincinnati Reds on July 21).
“‘Scare’ is probably a good word,” Hoyer said. “It makes you realize that every team, every pitcher can go down at any time. You have to have the depth to handle it.
“We know that’s going to be our focus at the deadline — to try to add depth.
“Jason’s injury maybe kind of underscores that a little bit.”
The White Sox traded for Samardzija last December and immediately put him front and center in their marketing campaign, trying to capitalize on his Northwest Indiana roots and Notre Dame name recognition. But Samardzija wants to test the market this winter and won’t be giving any hometown discounts.
The White Sox began the day in last place in the American League Central, but still only 5.5 games back in the wild-card race.
“They have a pitcher over there?” Hoyer said, checking his watch. “We have heard of him. We traded him a week ago last year.”
That morning, Baseball Prospectus gave the White Sox a 3.3 percent chance to make the playoffs while projecting the Cubs at 77.5 percent. Samardzija said he still follows his old team “just a little bit.”
“You don’t really hear too much about the Cubs in Chicago,” Samardzija deadpanned. “They don’t get that much coverage so…
“Yeah, it sounds like they’re doing pretty good.”
Samardzija loves the bright lights and the big stage and still has a strong relationship with Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio, who helped him make the transition from inconsistent reliever to frontline starter. The two talked on the field before Friday’s game.
Hoyer tuned in to see part of Samardzija’s dominant performance against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon. Samardzija took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of a complete-game shutout at U.S. Cellular Field.
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The Blue Jays have been fixated on Samardzija for at least two straight seasons, the Baltimore Orioles are also believed to be interested now and everyone needs pitching. After a rough April, Samardzija (6-4, 4.02 ERA) has thrown at least seven innings in 10 of his last 11 starts.
“I don’t think he cares” about being on the trading block, Hoyer said. “He’s a competitor. He goes out in any game and he’s going to battle.
“The deadline noise or the uncertainty — I just think he’s a guy that’s pretty unaffected by it, which is a pretty big positive.”
So you’ve been scouting Samardzija?
“I watch a lot of games,” Hoyer said with a laugh. “That’s my job. They’re on TV a lot.”