The Cubs-Sox buzz Friday sounded suspiciously like snoring for most of a swing-and-miss, 1-0 White Sox victory in the opener of a the three-game series.
But the unusual timing for this first of two crosstown sets offers an opportunity to pump up the weekend, an opportunity to put this one into the pantheon of great Cubs-Sox meetings alongside the legends of A.J. Pierzynski, Carlos Zambrano and Milton Bradley.
Because it’s July. And for those who haven’t noticed, it’s also still Shark Week.
Return Jeff Samardzija to his Cubs roots in a weekend clubhouse-switch trade? That would assure this rendition of Cubs-Sox as one for the ages.
The only thing preventing a serious conversation about it so far is the Sox upper brass clinging to the misguided notion that with a good few weeks of baseball they can start the process of leap-frogging eight teams to win a wild-card spot.
They are sellers in denial.
The Cubs, who have been on the prowl for starting pitching for more than a month, are ready to move as soon as they find their deal – especially after going through this week’s hamstring scare with starter Jason Hammel.
“We know that’s going to be our focus at the deadline,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said.
Nobody makes more sense for what the Cubs need this year than Samardzija, whose only value to the Sox is in a trade or the compensation draft pick they’d get if they keep him and make a qualifying offer before he heads off to free agency this fall.
“Obviously, as a professional you understand the situation,” said Samardzija, who was traded to the Athletics on July 4 last year in the deal that brought Addison Russell to the Cubs.
“You’re always ready to move when you’re around that point in your career. There isn’t too much you can do other than your job on the mound.”
And the Cubs have noticed. In particular, the six-start run he’s on (2-0, 2.40), which included a four-hit shutout of the Blue Jays on Thursday.
“He’s given them a ton of innings. The last 10 starts he’s gone seven or more,” Hoyer said. “He looks like he wasn’t quite himself early, and I watched four or five innings of that game [Thursday], and he looked terrific.”
The Cubs need starting pitching. The Sox need help at shortstop and third base.
Package Mike Olt and/or Arismendy Alcantara in a deal. Build a package around the injured Javy Baez, as a player to be named later, if necessary.
Samardzija’s $9.8 million contract? The prorated remainder would fit neatly – if snugly – into the limited space left in the payroll budget.
“Obviously, I love Chicago,” said Samardzija, who spent much of Friday’s pregame time visiting with old teammates and Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio, with whom he maintains a strong relationship. “The one hard thing about being traded is the uncertainty of the team you’re going to and the situation. So obviously there’s a familiarity with me and here.
“So it would make that move a whole lot easier.”
“It would be fun,” said Hammel, who went with Samardzija in that trade last summer, before re-signing with the Cubs as a free agent. “He would be welcomed back. That would be crazy.”
Just crazy enough to make sense.
Hoyer said the Cubs have no problem dealing with the Sox front office regardless of how unusual crosstown trades tend to be. If they could persuade Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams to make that deal, the biggest issue might be whether they could sign Samardzija to the kind of extension they failed to get done the last two years.
He already was on the Cubs’ radar as a free agent depending on his price and their resources.
But even if he turned out to be a short-term pitcher, he could be the decisive one. And Hoyer said that one-game, wild-card playoff is a big deal, even if it’s not the ideal.
“Last year the Giants went on the road in that one-game playoff and still won it and ended up [winning] the World Series,” he said. “Just because it’s one game doesn’t make it less valuable.”