Jeff Samardzija, Cubs Skipper Search and Three Fall All-Stars

One of the many storylines of the off-season for the Cubs is Jeff Samardzija’s future with the team. Jeff Samardzija is arbitration eligible for next season and remains under team control through the 2015 season. Samardzija is coming off an inconsistent year, one in which he set career highs in innings pitched (213 2/3), starts (33) and strikeouts (214) while completing his first full season in the rotation (4.34 ERA, 1.35 WHIP).

The Cubs tried to ink Samardzija to a contract extension last winter. But the front office was unsuccessful in their efforts to sign him to a team-friendly deal. Samardzija reportedly turned down an extension worth more than $30 million that would have bought out his arbitration years and at least one of his free agent years. The two sides avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $2.64 million contract. Samardzija earned another $125,000 by surpassing 200 innings. Samardzija figures to be paid more than $6 million in his second year of arbitration eligibility for the 2014 campaign.

Pitchers like Jeff Samardzija are not easy to come by, but if the front office and Samardzija cannot come to an agreement on a long term contract soon, he could be traded before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. The Sun-Times reported such a possibility on Monday.

There have been rumblings that Samardzija would not only like a guarantee the Cubs plan on building a team at the big league level that will be able to complete for an entire season without players being traded away in July but he would also like a no-trade clause. And the days of the Cubs including no-trade clauses are over under the Theo EpsteinJed Hoyer led front office.

According to the Sun-Times, “an extension looks like a long shot at this point” for Samardzija and “neither side is confident a sizable gap in their thinking can be closed when talks restart in earnest this winter.” The Sun-Times reiterated Samardzija is willing to go year to year with his contract until he reaches free agency. But the front office will not allow that to happen with the Cubs in order to maximize his value.

AFL Fall Stars

Jorge Soler will join Kris Bryant and Albert Almora on the East squad for Saturday’s Fall Stars Game at Surprise Stadium. Bryant figures to start the game at third base, which will be carried on both the MLB Network and All three prospects have created quite the buzz in a short time in the Arizona Fall League.

Kris Bryant hit his fifth home run of the fall on Monday, a two-run shot to right center in the eighth inning. Bryant went 1-for-3 with a walk on Monday and is now hitting .422/.471/.933 with six doubles, one triple, five home runs, 16 RBI and five walks for a 1.404 OPS in 11 games.

Jorge Soler started in right for the Solar Sox on Monday. Soler was 1-for-3 with a walk and was pinch ran for in the ninth by Albert Almora. Soler is up to .300/.327/.440 with four doubles, one home run and nine RBI with a pair of walks for a .767 OPS.

Albert Almora has cooled off since his hot start but is still hitting .297/.333/.541 in nine games with four doubles, one triple, one home run, two walks and nine RBI with a .874 OPS.

And speaking of Almora, could he be the top prospect in the Cubs’ system?

Jason Parks and the Baseball Prospectus crew are working on their list of the Top 101 prospects in the game. Parks tweeted on Monday that an early draft of the BP 101 has three Cubs’ prospects in the mix for the top 10 in the game. The assumption was Bryant and Baez would be two of the three, then Parks responded that Almora might be the top prospect in the Cubs’ system.

According to Parks, Almora profiles as a legit centerfielder at the highest level with a chance to be a power hitter that hits .300.

Baseball America’s off-season top 10 prospects lists will be posted over the next several weeks leading into Spring Training. BA posted “a rough guide to the most bountiful farm systems, or at least those most likely to pay dividends in the near future, using the 2013 league prospect rankings as a guide” on Monday.

Based on their scoring system, the Cubs rank as the fifth best system in the minor leagues, tied with the Kansas City Royals … with the Red Sox at the top of their list.

According to BA, “Chicago is swimming in position players but their long-term outlook might be most dependent on the development of such pitchers as Pierce Johnson and C.J. Edwards.”

Updating the Skipper Search

The Cubs are expected to spend Tuesday with Eric Wedge in Chicago talking to him for the second time about their managerial opening. The front office has reportedly spoken with Wedge about the job and will sit down for a face-to-face conversation on Tuesday.

According to David Kaplan, the reports that suggested the Cubs would begin their second round of interviews this week are inaccurate. Other names remain in play according to Kaplan. The Cubs are waiting to speak with Torey Lovullo and could be looking at adding another candidate or two to the list.

Rick Renteria has talked to the Cubs and Mariners about the managerial openings in Chicago and Seattle. Renteria is expected to meet with Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski about his skipper’s job. The Tigers interviewed Brad Ausmus on Monday.

The mystery candidate could be Brad Ausmus. The Cubs are believed to have interviewed at least one other candidate for the job. Patrick Mooney reported on Sunday night, the Cubs “are being stealth” about their interest in Ausmus, and he appears to be on the Cubs’ radar.

What is thought to be known with skipper search is that the Cubs have spoken with, and or, interviewed A.J. Hinch, Manny Acta, Rick Renteria, Dave Martinez, Torey Lovullo and Eric Wedge. There is a least one other candidate the front office has spoken to about the job and they are interviewing coaches for possible positions on the new manager’s staff.

The Cubs are believed to have asked the Rangers for permission for Mike Maddux, but are not interested in talking with Mike Maddux, Sandy Alomar Jr., Tony Pena, DeMarlo Hale or Chip Hale about the job. Could Brian Butterfield and/or Gary DiSarcina be on the Cubs’ list?

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Quote of the Day

"You can’t sit on a lead and kill the clock. You’ve got to give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game." - Earl Weaver