Cubs

Cubs-Giants: Jeff Samardzija knows Jake Arrieta’s winning streak can roll into free agency

Cubs-Giants: Jeff Samardzija knows Jake Arrieta’s winning streak can roll into free agency

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.”

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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