One of the biggest names on the trade block during the Winter Meetings may not be moved at all.
The name of Cubs right-handed starter Jeff Samardzija has been thrown around this offseason, especially during this week's Winter Meetings, as a player who could be moved for a big package of prospects.
That makes sense on several levels. The Cubs aren't too shy about the fact that they're in the midst of a rebuilding phase and would like to build up their system to contend in 2015 and beyond. Samardzija -- the team's Opening Day starter in 2013 who posted a 4.34 ERA and 214 strikeouts over 213 2/3 innings last year -- represents one of their stronger assets, especially given that he remains under team control for two more years and can't become a free agent until after the 2015 season. Throw in the 28-year-old's relative durability and lack of mileage on his arm, and you've got an attractive trade chip.
The problem is the Cubs might see Samardzija as more valuable than those wishing to trade for him.
"They're looking for young, controllable pitching, but I don't know [if they can get it]," one AL scout told MiLB.com. "The price tag is extremely high right now. He went to Notre Dame. He's a fan favorite. They better get a heavy return for that, but how many teams are willing to do that? While they're listening, I just don't think they're motivated enough to move him."
There have been teams that fit that description that have been linked to Samardzija this offseason. The D-backs, for one, have been linked to the right-hander since the non-waiver trade deadline in July. But as Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times noted, their package took a hit when they sent promising left-hander Tyler Skaggs to the Angels in the deal that netted Mark Trumbo. The team has stated again and again that top prospect Archie Bradley, whom the Cubs would love to have, is off-limits, and some of their big-name chips such as Chris Owings, Didi Gregorius and Matt Davidson don't quite fit Chicago's senior-circuit squad, whose system has a glut of talent on the left side of the infield.
The Blue Jays are rumored to be dangling outfielder Colby Rasmus in their pursuit of pitching help, but it'll take more than that to scoop up Samardzija. While Toronto's top six prospects according to MLB.com all make their home on the mound, the organization might be gun-shy about giving the Cubs a top arm after the Mets and Marlins raided that closet in the R.A. Dickey and Jose Reyes-Josh Johnson-Mark Buerhle deals last offseason.
The Orioles and Cubs have been linked to a Samardzija-Wieters deal, but as CSNChicago.com's David Kaplan noted, Wieters is also a free agent after 2015 and will likely seek a big deal at that time, striking him from Chicago's extremely long-term plans. (Plus, Welington Castillo proved to be a solid option behind the plate for the North Siders.) Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy -- MLB.com's No. 14 and 15 overall prospects -- would be attractive pieces but are likely too valuable to give up for the O's.
Same goes for the Pirates and top prospect Jameson Taillon, who checks in at No. 10 on that list. Luis Heredia and Tyler Glasnow are likely more moveable there, but both remain years from the Majors after spending all of 2013 at the Class A level.
In fact, the scout told MiLB.com that perhaps four teams -- Rangers, Astros, Twins, Mariners -- could fit the bill that the Cubs are looking for in return for Samardzija. The Twins and Astros are in their own rebuilding phases, so a move for a so-far extension-less right-hander doesn't make much sense there. The Rangers have already denounced a trade for a pitcher with general manager Jon Daniels telling the Dallas Morning News, "We'd love to have some of the guys that are out there, but there doesn't appear to be a fit for us." The Mariners, on the other hand, seem to have their focus on David Price, who along with White Sox left-hander Chris Sale, would arguably provide the biggest boost to a rotation seeking top-of-the-line talent.
"Those guys are true top, top-of-the-rotation type of guys," said the scout. "Even then, Price has more of a track record than Sale. Plus, they're left-handed. But you have those two out there and then Samardzija is more of a mid-rotation type.
"There's a comparison. They're talking about Brad Miller and Taijuan Walker for Price. And if that's for him, you can imagine what it is for Samardzija, even if it's down. It's so high, only a few teams can pay it. I think a lot of these [organizations] are looking at what's being asked and deciding they'd rather just go with the guys they have."
For the time being, the Cubs might be better served trying to hammer out an extension with Samardzija, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that the team was, in fact, meeting with his agent Wednesday with that in mind. If that doesn't work out, the Cubs could try again in July when pitching of Samardzija's quality will be in high demand once more and their high demand for prospects could have a better chance of being met.