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Cubs eager to sign Jeff Samardzija to long-term deal

Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzijdelivers pitch against ClevelIndians during second inning spring training baseball game Monday March 22 2010 MesAriz.

Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija delivers a pitch against the Cleveland Indians during the second inning of a spring training baseball game Monday, March 22, 2010, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

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Updated: December 10, 2012 6:36AM

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — As the Cubs search for starting pitchers to fill out a 2013 rotation, their first order of business this winter is building and strengthening a roster core for the longer term.

And when it comes to pitching, that always comes back to two words: Jeff Samardzija.

According to multiple sources, the Cubs have reached out to Samardzija about the possibility of exploring a multiyear deal with the big right-hander, who’s arbitration-eligible after making an impressive transition from the bullpen to the rotation.

‘‘I’m not going to comment on it, but [Samardzija has] had a great year, and certainly he’s a guy we hope is in a Cubs uniform for a long time,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said during the general managers meetings.

Free agents Brandon McCarthy and Shaun Marcum might be the flavors of the winter, but Samardzija remains a home-grown key to the bigger picture, especially after a 9-13, 3.81 ERA season that got better in the second half (3-5, 2.58) until he was ordered to shut it down in September as a precaution because of a career-high 1742/3-inning workload.

Samardzija didn’t immediately respond to e-mailed questions Thursday.

And his agent, Mark Rodgers, wouldn’t comment on the subject other than to say: ‘‘We would certainly always be open-minded about entertaining any sort of offer the Cubs would want to make and would be prepared to respond.’’

But with three winters of arbitration eligibility pending and the market value of a durable, power-pitching starter figuring to rise dramatically if Samardzija makes even modest progress from 2012, the Cubs figure to be challenged to find a price point and contract length that fit the needs of both sides.

Samardzija made $2.64 million in 2012 and should be in line for a high-percentage raise through the arbitration process if he chooses that route.

By his third year of eligibility? Consider that teammate Matt Garza, coming off a .500 season in which he spent time on the disabled list for an elbow injury, made $9.5 million in 2012 at that same eligibility level.

Hoyer, who spoke of the value in general of locking up young, home-grown players early in their careers, didn’t downplay what Samardzija means to the Cubs as a pitcher, personality and potential clubhouse and rotation tone-setter.

‘‘He’s a great competitor, and I think he’s the kind of guy that teammates really look up to,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘And I think he has the potential down the road to be a really good leader. …

‘‘It’s hard to be a leader when you’re also trying to establish your career. But now that he’s had a really great season, I think he can probably be that guy. There’s nothing but positive things to say about the year he had, and getting to know him, he’s really impressive.’’

One thing in the Cubs’ favor with any multiyear efforts is that the Northwest Indiana native and former Notre Dame football star has repeatedly made it clear he wants to be a Cub long-term.

He also has made it equally clear he wants to win with this team, so how the team’s progress looks over the next year could be telling for his long-term status if he doesn’t get a long-term deal done this winter.

In the meantime, he doesn’t seem to mind the thought of filing for arbitration — and doesn’t seem to be in a particular rush to seek his next big deal regardless.

As he said on the subject when teammate Starlin Castro signed that seven-year, $60 million extension in August:

‘‘I signed a nice [$10 million] contract coming out of college, and I don’t have many expenses. I don’t have that many bills to pay.

‘‘So I don’t really need any money, to tell you the truth. I’m not asking for anything. I’m asking to pitch.’’

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