We seem to have the first actual rumblings of an actual signing for the Cubs, and it appears to be old friend Jeff Samardzija. Nothing concrete, just rumors and reports of a dinner between him and Theo and The Score’s Bruce Levine saying that’s it’s more likely than not that Shark will be returning to the Northside after a year and a half essentially out on loan. I get the impression that there’s some angst or bitterness about it. I wonder why.
First, the actual baseball side of it. Samardzija was something of a comedy skit for the Sox last year, and that probably is being used a shield to justify some weird feelings Cubs fans have about Shark. You can find plenty of studies about whether it was a false year or the signal of a downturn elsewhere I’m sure. He saw a decline in his strikeouts, grounders, and uptick in walks, and some horrible luck in sequencing with a non-repeatable left-on-base percentage of 67.2%. He gave up more liners, and seemingly was moving to using a cutter more and using his sinker/four-seamer less, which is what was his strength here. His cutter has always gotten whacked around, so the new focus on it is strange.
But I don’t think that’s what’s going on with Cubs fans and their feeling about Shark.
At the top, most Cubs fans believe in Chris Bosio’s ability to bring the best out of pitchers. If this were any other pitcher coming off a down year but with the track record of the three seasons before it we’d all think we were getting a bargain and a chance for a real stud to join the rotation.
It’s more than that. I get the impression that Shark represents the first stages of the rebuild or project to fans, and it’s a phase that we’ve all left behind and buried in the dust. For two and a half seasons, Samardzija was just about the only thing worth watching on the Cubs. He preceded Starlin and Rizzo. Samardzija was just about the only light on some awful, awful Cubs teams. And now that we look back on that time, I wonder if there isn’t some resentment not to Shark, but to those teams and he’s just the symbol.
Is Shark kind of brash? Of course he is. That’s probably a factor into what made him as effective as he was pitching in what was basically a hopeless situation. When he first moved to the rotation before 2012, I remember during his spring training excellence he was asked if he’d be upset if he wasn’t in the rotation. His response was, “They’d have to tell me why.” Isn’t that the sort of confidence you want?
There was some annoyance with his reluctance to sign up an extension here, which of course led to his trade. But I never saw a problem with it. One, Shark wasn’t Castro or Rizzo. He was older, and had been around longer. The shelf life for a pitcher is shorter. And those position players were under control anyway. Shark had an exit door to go somewhere better and get to a winner quicker than what looked like would happen here.
Second, players covet that chance at free agency. We might not like it, but you would too. They work their ass off for it. They get to pick where they want to play and for how much. Given Shark’s age, this might be the only chance he gets at it being a pursued asset. Teams aren’t going to be beating down his door when he’s 34 or 35. This is it for him. He didn’t want to miss out. That’s understandable.
I know some scoff at his comments when Scott Feldman was traded. But at the time, no one knew what Arrieta and Strop were going to be. You know what Arrieta was at that point? Really no different than Dan Straily or Jacob Turner or Felix Dubront or a couple of other talented starters the Cubs took fliers on because they had nothing to lose. No one saw this coming. Not even the Cubs. They probably saw a max of a really good #2 starter, if everything went well. If anyone says they thought Arrieta could win a Cy Young, other than Arrieta himself, you’ll be smelling burning jeans.
If you’re Shark, and Feldman gets traded for two guys who either weren’t in the majors at the moment or buried in a mop up role, it’s just another stark reminder that the team you’re on is going nowhere. These guys are competitors, and that kind of shatters whatever illusion they have. Deep down they know the deal of course, but it’s a reminder they can’t ignore. Basically it’s a statement, “Whatever you do this year doesn’t matter.” That’s not exactly fitting with a pro athlete’s attitude. I think a lot would be disappointed in the same position.
Sure, I know going to the Southside plays into it for some Cubs fans. I don’t feel that way but some do, that there’s some stain on you when you play in U.S. Cellular or Shark is some sort of traitor even though he was dealt there and not signed. He talked confidently upon arrival in black and white, but what was he supposed to do?
Cubs fans laugh a bit at him because he wanted to go somewhere to be in a pennant race and pitch in the playoffs, and he never got to while a year later the Cubs were doing so themselves. I get it.
But Shark would come back as at best a #3 starter. He no longer would be a moderate peak in an otherwise shitheap of a team. He’d get what he wants, and Cubs fans would get what they want in a bolstered rotation, if Bosio can get him back to anywhere near what he was here. Shark loved being a Cub. We probably need to all get over it.