SAN FRANCISCO – Theo Epstein’s front office and Jeff Samardzija both won the game of chicken, the Cubs getting a franchise shortstop in Addison Russell and Shark scoring a five-year, $90 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.
Samardzija hasn’t entered Jake Arrieta’s stratosphere or won a Cy Young Award – and the win-now Cubs are in such a different place as an organization – but this is right around the time when the two sides had to pick lanes in 2014.
Less than 18 months away from becoming a free agent, Arrieta is betting on himself, the same way Samardzija did, at a table with even higher stakes. When you’re on a roll like this, why not?
The Cubs have now won Arrieta’s last 22 regular-season starts after Friday night’s 8-1 victory over the Giants at sold-out AT&T Park. Arrieta is 24-1 with a 0.99 ERA in his last 29 starts since June 21 of last year and figures to be looking for a seven-year megadeal north of $200 million.
“Alpha male,” Samardzija said. “You see (David) Price gets $2-(hundred million)-whatever (from the Boston Red Sox) and (Zack) Greinke gets ($200 million-plus from the Arizona Diamondbacks).
“Maybe you feel you’re better than those guys and you want to show that. There are a lot of different things that play into it. And sometimes there’s just a number that you’re happy with, that you know if they get there, then you’ll say yes.
“Maybe they just haven’t got there yet. It’s so individually based on what you want and how you feel.
“But I could imagine if I was in Jake’s shoes – with what he’s done since August of last year – I would be thinking pretty highly of myself also. I wouldn’t be selling myself short. I would ride that train until the wheels fell off.
“It comes to a point where – when you get close to free agency – there’s no turning back.”
The Cubs reached that point with Samardzija during his All-Star season and engineered a Fourth of July blockbuster trade with the Oakland A’s, grabbing Russell as Starlin Castro’s eventual replacement.
After getting traded again to the White Sox and having a down season on the South Side last year (11-13, 4.96 ERA), Samardzija still wound up with his first choice, playing in a great city and a beautiful ballpark for a franchise that won three World Series titles between 2010 and 2014.
With his long-term future secured – and throwing to Buster Posey in an ideal pitching environment/division – Samardzija is living up to his top-of-the-rotation stuff (6-2, 2.66 ERA) alongside Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto.
Arrieta only had what he called his “B stuff” for a Giants team coming off the franchise’s first 7-0 road trip since 1913. Arrieta felt like his cutter was flat and his timing has been off, but he still ended San Francisco’s eight-game winning streak, limiting the Giants to one run across seven innings, allowing only four hits and two walks against eight strikeouts.
Just as the Samardzija trade to Oakland had its own logic, the Cubs made another franchise-altering deal with the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season, helping Arrieta transform into an ace.
“(Jake’s) in a great spot,” Samardzija said. “There’s probably a little bit more want to keep him around, just because of where their current situation is. Obviously, you take Jake out of there, that’s a big hole to fill with what he’s been doing lately.
“But I’ve watched Jake from the beginning. It’s been fun to watch. Everybody likes to write people off. It’s pretty much people’s favorite thing to do – say a guy’s done. And to see what Jake’s done has been amazing.”
Don’t let the long hair and chill off-the-field demeanor fool you. Shark is an insightful observer and a shrewd businessman. Samardzija pointed out that Arrieta has a better resume than Stephen Strasburg, another Scott Boras client/Tommy John survivor who recently signed an extension with the Washington Nationals that guaranteed him seven years, $175 million and opt-out flexibility.
“Jake’s not dumb,” Samardzija said. “But honestly a lot of it probably (will be determined by) how he does this year or next year. If they’re where they are (now) and winning, it’s hard to leave a team that’s in that situation.”
That’s why the Cubs can play this out with Arrieta and not rush into a deal with a pitcher who will be 32 on Opening Day 2018.
“Eventually, it doesn’t become about the money,” Samardzija said. “It just becomes about having the guys that you want there. And if that’s a guy you feel is an essential part of it, then you do what it takes to keep him.”