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Three Players Chicago Cubs Should Sign to Long-Term Contracts

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The Chicago Cubs, however slowly, have begun properly planning for the future of the organization. And it's about time.

They are in the early developing stages of a $500 million restoration of Wrigley Field and recently signed first baseman Anthony Rizzo to a seven-year contract extension. The Rizzo signing goes hand-in-hand with Starlin Castro's extension last season. With two presumptive key elements now locked up for the Cubs in the long term, along with a few potentials in the minors (Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, Javier Baez), the team is ready to properly build around these young players.

Here are a few options as to how the Cubs might go about doing that:

Jeff Samardzija -- Pitcher

Samardzija is an interesting specimen statistically. His first few seasons did little to make anyone think he had made the right decision choosing baseball over football, following his two-sport career at Notre Dame. There were times over his first few seasons when Cubs fans were ready for him to be kicked to the curb.

But starting as a reliever in 2011, he started figuring it out (2.97 ERA in 75 games). His 3.81 ERA as a starter in 2012 is encouraging (don't pay attention to the 9-13 record, the Cubs lost 101 games) and his current 3.49 ERA this season is even more so. The Cubs seem ready to sign Samardzija, but, according to Len Kasper, the pitcher wants to have a chance to put up good numbers (so he can get more money) before he signs anything major.

Samardzija appears to be on the upswing, but the Cubs are in such need of pitching that I imagine a deal will get done, though it might not be until the offseason.

Darwin Barney -- Second Base

Offensive output is not Darwin Barney's strong suit. With the emergence of offensively dangerous second basemen in recent years (Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips, Chase Utley), it is easy to get frustrated when a guy is primarily in the lineup because of defensive prowess.

That being said, Barney's current .191 average is not going to cut it regardless of the defense that he plays -- which is Gold Glove-caliber. The Cubs are not terrible defensively (though pitcher fielding has been dreadful), but Darwin Barney is the only true standout at this juncture. The continuity of having Castro and Barney up the middle (along with Rizzo at first) for the foreseeable future will help solidify the infield, help balance out Castro's "all or nothing" style of defense, and allow the Cubs to look at some of their more pressing needs via free agency and the draft. With an aging outfield that will most likely go the way of free agency or trades in the near future, continuing to stabilize the infield should be a priority now.

James Russell -- Pitcher

If the Chicago Cubs need starting pitching, they desperately need relief pitching. Were it not for Russell's dependability (0.61 ERA in 20 games) and Kevin Gregg's random re-emergence as closer, the Cubs' bullpen would be an unmitigated disaster. Even with Russell and Gregg, it is spotty.

The Cubs have the option of waiting a little while on Russell since he still has a few years before he hits free agency (2016), but with Carlos Marmol's control about as consistent as winning the lottery, Kyuiji Fujikawa underachieving/injured, Shawn Camp's 7.31 ERA, and a reliance on Gregg to continue his new streak of success, any stability in the bullpen would be nice. With a 0.61 ERA (and a respectable 3.25 ERA all of 2012), Russell seems like a fit.

Darwin Barney and James Russell would both come at a reasonable price. By signing them, important needs would be filled all the while not handicapping the Cubs' payroll for future construction. Samardzija will cost more but if he comes close to where he thinks he can be, he'll be worth it, too.

Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs follower. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him a chance to closely follow and report Chicago sports as a freelance writer through Yahoo! Contributor and Yahoo! Sports. He is also a senior in college majoring in English and Creative Writing.

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