Jeff Samardzija says he wants a big-money contract to help future players

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The Cubs and starter Jeff Samardzija avoided arbitration with a one-year, $5.345 million deal back in February. There have been talks of a long-term contract extension, but they haven’t gone anywhere and the most likely scenario still involves the Cubs trading the right-hander during the season, and Samardzija hitting the free agent market after the season.

Samardzija isn’t going to settle, as Patrick Mooney details for CSN Chicago. His father has been part of a union for over 30 years and he supports Northwestern football players as they battle the NCAA for collective bargaining rights. Samardzija sees himself as part of the bigger picture — his ability to negotiate a big contract sets up the players that come after him in a better position to negotiate more player-friendly contracts.

“Without a doubt,” Samardzija said. “I’ve said it before: Personally, numbers and money don’t really drive me. What does drive me is protecting and setting up the players behind me, the future generations, so that I’m not signing any of these crummy early deals for seven or eight years.”

Samardzija, of course, is referring to the recent trend in which players have signed away some of their pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible years, as well as some free agency years, for up front security. Over the off-season, the Braves signed five players to extensions, including Jason Heyward (two years, $13.3 million), Julio Teheran (six years, $32.4 million), Andrelton Simmons (seven years, $58 million), Craig Kimbrel (four years, $42 million), and Freddie Freeman (eight years, $135 million). It is the most glaring example of what teams are doing to save money while keeping talented players on the roster.

Mike Trout also made headlines with his six-year, $144.5 million deal with the Angels, which many believe significantly underpays him, particularly when compared to Clayton Kershaw’s seven-year, $215 million deal signed two months earlier. Many believed that Trout would become baseball’s first $300 million man.

By pushing the boundaries further and further, other similarly-skilled players now and in the future have more leverage when they negotiate a contract. Trout, who may end up retiring as the most unique and unparalleled player of his generation, had the opportunity to push that boundary, but settled on a deal that gives him more financial security. By going through arbitration through 2017, Trout risked being underpaid in the immediate future, and he also risked suffering a potentially career-altering or career-ending injury, which could have cost him hundreds of millions of dollars. No one can fault Trout for taking that contract. Samardzija, however, is willing to take that risk for the betterment of his peers, which is admirable.

Max Scherzer will not be ready for Opening Day

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Ten days ago Nationals ace Max Scherzer said he’d be ready for the start of the regular season. “I’m gonna do it,” Scherzer said.

[Ron Howard from “Arrested Development” voice] — No, he’s not:

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said that Max Scherzer is not on track to be the team’s opening day starter, and will most likely open the season as the third pitcher in the rotation.

He’s still projected to make it to the opening rotation, taking the hill, most likely, on Thursday April 6 against the Marlins. At least if the schedule doesn’t slip any more.

Scherzer, as you probably know, has a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger, which has messed with his preparation and has caused him to alter his grip a bit. As of now Stephen Strasburg will get the Opening Day nod.

Theo Epstein named The World’s Greatest Leader

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Fortune Magazine has put out a list of The World’s Greatest Leaders. Not the greatest business leaders, not the greatest leaders in a given industry, but the Greatest Leaders, full stop. The greatest according to Fortune: The Cubs’ Theo Epstein.

For some context, Pope Francis was third. Angela Merkel was 10th. Lebron James was the next greatest sports leader, ranked 11th. Take Fortune’s methodology with a grain of salt, however, given that it has John McCain above Merkel — what, exactly, does he lead now? — and Samantha Bee in the top 20.

So what makes Theo the world’s best leader according to Fortune?

The Cubs owe their success to a five-year rebuilding program that featured a concatenation of different leadership styles. The team thrived under the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts, and, later, under the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of the club’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox.

I don’t want to take anything away from what Theo has done — he’s a Hall of Fame executive already in my view — but I feel like maybe one needs to adjust for the fact that this is a baseball team we’re talking about. They’re the whole world to us and their brands are nationally and even world famous, but as an organization, sports teams are rather small. There are guys who run reasonably-sized HVAC companies with more employees than a baseball team and they don’t get the benefit of an antitrust exemption and a rule which allows them to get their pick of the best new employees if they had a bad year the year before.

Really, not trying to throw shade here, just thinking that being the spiritual father for 1.2 billion Catholics or running a foundation that serves 55 million needy children — like the woman who comes in at number 14 — is a bit of a tougher trick.

But this will make a great framed magazine article on Theo’s wall in Wrigley Field.