By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) — The Baltimore Orioles appear to be the leading team of interest in the sweepstakes for Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija, as sources confirmed the two teams are mutually interested.
With the American League East up for grabs, the Orioles could separate themselves from the pack with a pre-emptive move before the trading deadline on July 31.
The Orioles have premium young pitching that the Cubs will insist on if they are going to move their ace. Right-handed pitchers Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Hunter Harvey and left-handed pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez top the list of young arms the Cubs are scouting.
Bundy may be the most interesting of the group. He’s now almost a year removed from Tommy John surgery. Bundy was picked by the Baltimore Orioles fourth overall in the 2011 draft and was rated with a 70 fastball and 65 curve on a scouting rating system that ranges from 20-80. Gausman is not far behind in scouting numbers with a 65 fastball.
Harvey, the son of former All-Star closer Bryan Harvey, was Baltimore’s top pick (11th overall) in 2013. Like his dad, he has a fastball that reaches the mid-90s.
Rodriguez throws in the 92-94 mph range. He has been moving up the chain with some needed maturity showing up in his arsenal this season.
Most major league teams are reluctant to move their top young arms, signing them to long-term commitments well before arbitration and free agency kick in. At 29, Samardzija doesn’t fit into the long-term plan of the Cubs, who aren’t in immediate contention. The Cubs may not be able to spend big money on players until 2016, due to business constraints.
Samardzija has this year and next left before becoming a free agent in November 2015. He has the second-lowest ERA in baseball for a starting pitcher at 1.68.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.