The Cubs dont have a true Plan B after losing out on Anibal Sanchez, in that they dont see any other free agent on the market worth that kind of commitment.
But those negotiationswhich for team president Theo Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts ended last week at the walkaway point of five years, 77.5 millionmust have gotten the attention of the players already inside the clubhouse. The meter is definitely running for Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza.
While the Detroit Tigers rolled out Sanchez for Mondays news conference announcing a new five-year, 80 million contract (plus a club option for 2018), the Cubs continued with their incremental moves.
MORE: Cubs lose out on Anibal Sanchez
The Cubs confirmed the signing of Chang-Yong Lim to a two-year, minor-league contract. While rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, the right-handed reliever gets a 100,000 signing bonus, and then monthly minor-league salaries (unless his contract is purchased). This is a low-risk investment in someone who has pitched professionally the last 17 seasons in Korea and Japan.
MORE: Taking a small risk, Cubs closing in on Chang-Yong Lim
The Cubs also made third baseman Ian Stewarts one-year, 2 million deal (plus incentives) official, while designating left-handed reliever Jeff Beliveau for assignment.
But as the Cubs try to build a rotation for October, the major decisions on the horizon will involve Garza and Samardzija.
Garza, who recently turned 29, is only three months older than Sanchez and entering the final year of his contract. In the past, general manager Jed Hoyer has said that the Cubs want more Matt Garzas, not less Matt Garzas. Its hard to distinguish the career numbers from Sanchez (48-51, 3.75 ERA) and Garza (57-61, 3.84 ERA).
But the optionstrade, extend, let the season play outappear to be on hold while Garza begins throwing again and lets the stress reaction in his right elbow heal.
The Cubs put a potential Samardzija extension on their offseason agenda, though there were indications a deal is unlikely this winter. That shouldnt set off any alarms, because Samardzija is a Chicago guy who has repeatedly said that this is where he wants to be. Epstein and Hoyer agree that he checks off many of their boxes, from raw talent to body type to makeup.
Just remember that All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro was in a different place last summer when he signed a team-friendly, seven-year, 60 million extension that contains a club option for 2020.
Samardzija has already made millions and likes to bet on himself. He did that when he decided to play baseball, turning down the NFL after an All-American career at Notre Dame. He did it again last offseason, lobbying Epstein for a chance in the rotation after he had established himself in the bullpen.
Samardzija recently went golfing in Arizona with manager Dale Sveum and Gold Glove second baseman Darwin Barney. Samardzija is expected to embrace a bigger leadership role, especially since Ryan Dempster wont be around to push the younger pitchers and take the ball on Opening Day April 1.
Obviously, its a little early to announce our No. 1 starter, but hes ready to go, Sveum said during an interview at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. The biggest thing is he can go into this season knowing that theres not that 165th inning coming up soon.
Technically, Samardzija threw 174.2 innings last season, which ended for him with a dominant complete game on Sept. 8 at PNC Park, where the Cubs will coincidentally begin their 2013 schedule against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Samardzija didnt feel like he had to be shut down, and wants to be unleashed for 200-plus innings.
The swagger and confidence Cubs officials saw years ago is back. Some were said to be on the sidelines in South Bend, Ind., during the 2005 Bush Push Game against USC. Before Reggie Bush shoved Matt Leinart into the end zone for a 34-31 win, they loved hearing Samardzija scream at the defensive secondary and talk trash while notching six catches for 99 yards and one touchdown against the nations No. 1 team.
Hes such a competitive guy, Sveum said. Hes that horse. Hes that guy you want on your staff and now he can just go out and relax. He doesnt have to do anything except be Jeff Samardzija. He learned a tremendous amount about starting pitching. We all witnessed that.
What will that cost the Cubs if Samardzija continues on this trajectory? Hes eligible for arbitration the next three years, so theres no rush. But look beyond his 9-13 record and 3.81 ERA last season and youll see that he averaged 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and posted a 2.58 ERA in 11 starts after the All-Star break.
Theres no question pitchers will benefit from the rapid inflation and the new television money flooding the game.
Zack Greinke got his six-year, 147 million megadeal from the Los Angeles Dodgers, who should be bankrolled by a potential 6 billion television contract with Fox Sports. Questions about how Dempster will perform in the American League East didnt stop the Boston Red Sox from giving him a two-year, 26.5 million contract, even though he will turn 36 in May.
The Cubs took a shot on Sanchez, even though they knew their interest would probably get leaked to the media. They braced for a second-place finish. They understood there was a strong preference to return to the Tigers, but thought it was important to send a message. It will be interesting to see if they have go-for-it urges with Garza and Samardzija.