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Trade scrutiny ‘puts a chip’ on Samardzija’s shoulder

Updated: April 1, 2014 10:32AM



MESA, Ariz. — Jeff Samardzija knows all eyes are going to be on him every time he pitches this spring and then every time he pitches once the season starts, assuming he’s still with the Cubs then.

It’s the new normal for Samardzija, who on Thursday opened the first spring of his career as an object of credible trade speculation.

“If anything, it just puts a chip on your shoulder,” Samardzija said after working out of a first-inning jam to get through two scoreless innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Cubs’ spring opener at their new spring ballpark.

“It makes you want to go out and prove yourself even more.”

If that’s the case, the chip isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And that could make him an intriguing pitcher to watch on at least a couple of levels every time he takes the mound in a Cubs uniform.

“I see him the same right now as I’ve seen him before,” manager Rick Renteria said when asked about the advantages or disadvantages of playing with a chip. “He’s always been driven to do well. As far as a chip … I haven’t heard anything.”

Samardzija, 29, was targeted by teams last summer — including the Diamondbacks — when the Cubs were working on trading Scott Feldman and Matt Garza. When he finished a 200-inning, 200-strikeout season with no movement between the sides on a possible contract extension, he was made available during the winter trading season.

Although teams such as Arizona and Toronto showed interest — and a longtime executive from a third team referred to Samardzija as a “monster in the making” — nobody came close to meeting the Cubs’ steep price in a winter pitching market already held up by Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka’s late posting.

The expectation is that barring a sudden reversal from either side on the extension idea, he’ll be a prime trade candidate at midseason.

But teams including Texas and Toronto still have starting pitching needs. And two more industry sources said they believe ­Samardzija could be traded before the season starts.

“I would be surprised,” said Samardzija, who started Opening Day for the Cubs last year. “From what it sounds like, we’re going head over heels for this season with this team. Rick’s made it very clear that we’re here to win, which I love.

“I love to hear him talk about his excitement for winning. Not development. Obviously, development’s part of it, but Rick’s No. 1 goal is winning, and me and him are 100 percent on the same page when it comes to that. We want to win. We want to win here. And we want to win now.”

Goals and realistic goals are often two different things. Especially when it comes to the third year of an austerity-minded rebuilding plan that included even less big-league help during the offseason for last year’s 96-loss team than they got for the 101-loss team the year before.

And as much as Renteria talks about winning, and players get motivated, the front office is focused on long-term value and long-term growth of an eventual contender.

As long as Samardzija remains on a one-year contract, the likeable, powerful, competitive local kid remains in the trade crosshairs of any team with a pitching need that sends a scout to file a report.

And outside of certain teams’ games in July, there’s no time and place to find more scouts at a game than spring in Arizona or Florida.

“You’re assuming they’re there every game, regardless of the situation,” Samardzija said, smiling. “You want to put on a good show for them.”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub

DIAMONDBACKS 5, CUBS 2

Shark tank

With rumors swirling and teams circling Jeff Samardzija, the Cubs’ ace pitched out of a first-inning jam with back-to-back strikeouts and completed two scoreless innings in his first spring start. Trade talk, he says, “puts a chip on your shoulder.”

Quick-start Starlin

Eager to put a tough 2013 behind him and return to All-Star form in 2014, shortstop Starlin Castro had a single to left and a run-scoring double to right in his two at-bats. “I’m just hoping that he starts enjoying himself a little bit more again and plays the game the way he’s capable of playing by maybe releasing some anxieties that he may or may not have had,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The reality is he knows all our eyes are on him. Not because we’re looking to hammer him; they’re on him because we want him to do well.”

Haven’t we met?

New closer Jose Veras didn’t do much to make anyone forget Carlos Marmol, issuing a leadoff walk, then allowing a hit and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out. After a strikeout, he gave up a two-run single before getting the last out.

Broken record

As expected, the Cubs broke the Cactus League ­attendance record in the first game played at the largest-capacity spring ballpark in baseball (14,486).

On deck

At Los Angeles Angels, Tempe, 2:10 p.m., WGN radio, LH Chris Rusin vs. RH Jered Weaver.



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