4 Cubs who could be wearing Yankees uniforms
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter April 15, 2014 10:32PM
Updated: May 17, 2014 6:46AM
NEW YORK — Five years ago, Jeff Samardzija was a rookie reliever when the Cubs helped christen the new Yankee Stadium with an exhibition series at the end of spring training.
“That was exciting,” said Samardjiza as he talked about his first trip back to the Bronx. “I got sent down that day, so it wasn’t that good of a day. … But it’s the place to play. It’ll be fun, for sure.”
A lot has changed for the guy who’s now considered the ace.
But one thing hasn’t: It’s still the place to play.
In fact, as the Cubs and Samardzija get closer to the summer trade season that is almost certain to put him in another team’s playoff race by August, New York figures to be one of the places in the mix for the powerful right-hander.
And he might not be the only one. Last year, the Yankees needed a hitter, and the Cubs sent them Alfonso Soriano and a trunkload of money to cover most of his salary.
As the Cubs open a one-day, two-game series at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, at least four Cubs seem to be good fits for a possible return to the Bronx on a one-way ticket in July.
1. Samardzija. The big-game pitcher might be the ideal fit on baseball’s biggest regular-season stage, not to mention in October.
Despite six consecutive quality starts dating to last season, the two-time Opening Day starter doesn’t have a win, largely because of a 35-inning scoreless drought by the team over the last five.
Imagine if he had a lineup of even aging All-Stars like the Yankees?
“You put him in the middle of a rotation on a team like that and he could win 18 games,” one rival evaluator said.
2. Darwin Barney. The Gold Glove second baseman has rediscovered his more natural approach at the plate this year after trying to change his hitting style for the previous field staff. But despite a team-leading six walks, he’s had his playing time drop in the early going as manager Rick Renteria looks for ways to keep newcomer Emilio Bonifacio in the lineup.
The 28-year-old Barney could be just the stabilizing influence the Yankees need in an aging middle infield that for now includes a 36-year-old second baseman with back problems (Brian Roberts) and a 40-year-old superstar shortstop (Derek Jeter) nursing a tight quadriceps.
3. Bonifacio. He turns 29 next week and can play six different positions, including both middle infield spots. And he’s one of the hottest hitters the first two weeks.
4. James Russell. The left-handed reliever has exactly the kind of big-league, bulldog mentality that plays in New York.
The Yankees have only one lefty in the rotation (CC Sabathia) and only one proven lefty in the bullpen: 37-year-old Matt Thornton, who’s already been used in six games.
Russell, 28, could provide a strong complement to Thornton while likely taking on a less hectic pace (his 151 appearances the last two years is fourth in the majors).
Let the auditions begin.