Chicago Cubs: Why Jeff Samardzija Makes Sense Now

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IApril 23, 2009

CHICAGO - AUGUST 06: Jeff Samardzija #29 of the Chicago Cubs pitches in the ninth inning against the Houston Astros on August 6, 2008 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Astros 11-4.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

My distinguished B/R colleague Bob Warja broke the news to us yesterday that the Chicago Cubs are bringing Jeff Samardzija back to Chicago from Iowa on Thursday. Warja then asked why.

As I promised in my comment on his news brief, my opinion is that this makes great sense for the Cubs right now on a number of levels.

The displaced member of the Cubs' major league roster appears to be veteran Luis Vizcaino. Vizcaino was acquired from Colorado for Jason Marquis in a straight-up trade before Spring Training began in a cost-cutting move.

The easiest reason to pinpoint for this move is that Vizcaino historically stinks against left handed hitters and Neal Cotts is struggling right now.

Samardzija going to the bullpen, and the (eventual) release of Vizcaino, eases the pressure on manager Lou Piniella when using his bullpen if he doesn't have to strategically avoid someone like Vizcaino when an opposing manager like Tony LaRussa stacks his lineup alternating sides.

But that's the layup, surface-level reasoning for this move happening now. I believe it goes deeper into the psyche of a team desperate for a championship.

The point Warja made, and one that has many Cubs fans scratching their heads today, is if the team sent Samardzija to the minors to continue working to become a starter, why bring him up for bullpen work?

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Before I address my answer to that question, let's take an honest assessment of the Cubs roster as it stands right now.

The current Cubs' rotation is Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Rich Harden and Sean Marshall. Zambrano and Harden both have missed starts the last couple years because of fatigue/injury, with Harden only being counted on realistically for somewhere around 28 starts this year.

Also, this is Marshall's first-time gig in the rotation, so his ability to make 34 starts is questionable as well.

If the Cubs are planning on Harden missing between six and 10 starts this year, and want to proactively keep him healthy so he can continue at the ridiculous pace he is currently striking out opposing batters, there are two approaches.

One, as we saw last year, is to shut him down for two to three weeks in August and September. The problem with that, as we saw when Harden did take the hill, was the rust that develops on an injury-prone pitcher and the additional physical issues pitching one in two weeks could present.

The second, of which I am a proponent, is to simply find the long stretches during the season when the Cubs don't have an off day for three weeks, and toy with a six-man rotation.

The Cubs are beginning a stretch of 20 games in 20 days against good opponents (at St. Louis and at Arizona coming up). If Samardzija picks up one or two starts in the middle of this stretch, it spreads out the workload of the rest of the rotation moving forward.

If he does the same every time the Cubs have an extended stretch of games without a day off, you can effectively cut four to six starts from Harden, Zambrano and the rest of the rotation over six months rather than 12 weeks, keeping the staff fresh and giving them rest simultaneously.

Also, if you have a scenario like last week, when Harden only threw three innings against Colorado, in the middle of a stretch like this it could destroy the rest of the three weeks. The Cubs need someone other than Aaron Heilman to eat three or four innings at a time out of the bullpen if needed. Samardzija could be that guy.

Samardzija was blowing away batters in Triple-A so far in April; there's no question where he belongs. The trick for the Cubs was trying to find the right situation/scenario to get his talent into the majors so he was positioned to succeed.

Whether it's in late-inning relief or picking up starts to help ease the wear and tear of the regular season on a starting rotation, Samardzija is a valuable piece of a potential championship puzzle for the Cubs.

Now is the time for him to be at Wrigley Field.