Cubs' Samardzija facing uncertain future
MESA, Ariz. – Jeff Samardzija isn't sure where he'll be by the end of the season.
He's a good candidate to be traded by the Chicago Cubs given his one-year contract and he's determined to pitch well whether he stays put or gets dealt.
"I know if I do my part and do what I expect of myself and what the team expects of me, then everything else is clear about what the future holds," Samardzija said. "All I can do is increase my value as much as possible, and I think in the end, it's going to help the organization no matter what. Either it helps the organization by keeping me here and proving that I'm that guy, or I increase my value and help them get prospects in return."
For now a cloud hovers over him. As pitchers and catchers worked out for the first time on Friday, Samardzija stared at an uncertain future.
Failed attempts at a long-term contract led to trade talks and, ultimately, a one-year agreement worth $5,345,000 to avoid arbitration on Saturday — two days before his scheduled hearing. Samardzija wouldn't reveal how wide the gap is for a longer contract.
"If there wasn't a gap we would have already signed," he said. "But both sides are justified. It's not like anyone's asking for some outlandish concept. I understand where they're coming from. They understand where I'm coming from. That's really all there is to say."
Are they still discussing a multi-year deal?
"We're not really going to talk about that," he said. "We're about this season. We're looking to get ready to compete and win some ballgames. We don't want any distractions whether it's with that or the trade talks or this or that. To me, it's a no-comment. I'm out there getting ready to do my thing and, like I said before, put no doubt in anybody's minds about who I am or what I can be for this team or this organization."
The 29-year-old Samardzija is coming off a season that saw him go 8-13 with a 4.34 ERA, but he was one of only 10 pitchers with at least 200 innings and 200 strikeouts. He's also not eligible for free agency until 2015, an added plus for potential suitors. And with the Cubs in a rebuilding mode, his days in Chicago could be winding down.
"You address it because it's going to be talked about," new manager Rick Renteria said. "What we're going to try to do is make him understand that the only thing that is significantly important to him is what he does between the lines."
A former Notre Dame football star, Samardzija has seen the Cubs go from a team winning its second straight division title when he debuted as a reliever in 2008 to one in the middle of a top-to-bottom overhaul as it tries to put an end to the losing.
The Cubs are coming off four straight losing seasons and another one would put them on their longest such streak since a six-year run in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
It's been a sharp fall, with a slow and painful healing process. Samardzija has watched president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer sign players to one-year deals and trade them for prospects after they performed well, sacrificing any short-term gains to stock the farm system. When they did that with Scott Feldman last year, Samardzija expressed his frustration. But he also insisted Friday he understands management's approach.
"I was critical simply just to lose a strong, competitive guy, which you need to win ballgames," Samardzija said. "From what I've seen here with meeting (Jason) Hammel and meeting (James) McDonald, they are those guys also. I will say the front office does a great job in recruiting, the scouting, the personality and the type of player they are. Every guy we bring in usually is a high-character guy that wants to compete."
How much longer Samardzija will be around is another issue.
"I think it comes down to where we're at as a team," he said. "(If we) show that we're pretty close to where we need to be especially as a pitching staff, which is what we can control as pitchers, a lot of times that changes the plan."
NOTES: RHP Jake Arrieta isn't ruling out being ready for the start of the season. The right-hander felt some tightness in his pitching shoulder a few weeks ago, and while the Cubs said he might not be ready to be included on the opening day roster, he is keeping that door ajar. "I don't think opening day is a far stretch," he said. "We'll kind of see where we're at in the progression as we move forward and kind of go from there."