CHICAGO – Jeff Samardzija strolled into a reception room at the downtown Sheraton Hotel with his left hand in his pocket and his right hand clutching a Stella Artois beer.
Every day is a good day to be Samardzija, but Friday was better than most.
The Cubs agreed to a one-year, $2.64 million deal with Samardzija, thus avoiding salary arbitration. The deal includes an additional $125,000 in possible performance bonuses.
In addition, the Cubs agreed to a one-year, $1.075 million contract with left-handed relief pitcher James Russell to avoid salary arbitration. Both deals were announced before the start of the annual Cubs Convention, which started Friday and continues through the weekend.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said he and his boss, team president Theo Epstein, were happy with both deals.
Arbitration hearings can be awkward as teams and agents publicly debate a players’ value.
“Theo’s never been to arbitration, I’ve never been,” Hoyer said. “We’ll go if we have to go, but if you can work out deals with agents, it’s a far better way to go. So, we’re really happy, and talking to Jeff and talking to James, it’s a great thing to get those kind of deals done.”
Samardzija, a 6-foot-5-inch right-hander who will turn 28 years old next week, emerged as a reliable starting pitcher last season with a 9-13 record and a 3.81 ERA in 28 starts. Russell, 27, posted a 7-1 record with a 3.25 ERA in 77 appearances out of the bullpen.
Good times: Samardzija said he was in South Florida when Notre Dame played Alabama in the BCS national championship game, although he didn’t go to the game.
Samardzija played wide receiver for three seasons with the Irish before going full-time to baseball. While in Florida, he bumped into many teammates he had not seen in a long time.
“A five-year reunion, essentially,” Samardzija said. “I guess you had to graduate for it to be a reunion.”
Did he see Manti Te’o’s girlfriend?
“She wasn’t there, actually,” Samardzija said with a smile.
Like most people, Samardzija said he wasn’t sure what to think about the blockbuster story regarding Te’o’s alleged fake girlfriend. Regardless, Samardzija said, the spotlight on the Irish shined bright.
“It’s Notre Dame, and you understand that when you go to Notre Dame, you take on a different role of being under the spotlight,” Samardzija said. “If things do go great, it’s a great place to be. You get tons of accolades for it. You get all of the front-page articles, you get Sports Illustrated, you get ESPN.
“But then if something doesn’t go well, you pay for that, too. So you need to understand if something doesn’t go well, you’ve got to be a responsible grown-up and an adult and you’ve got to make the right decisions.”
Cubs bits: Matt Garza said he was ahead of schedule in recovering from an elbow injury, and he did not expect to have any limitations in spring training. … Alfonso Soriano, whose name was mentioned in trade rumors this winter, said he hoped to finish his career with the Cubs.