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Cubs’ Samardzija might be on his way out

Updated: November 14, 2013 11:11AM

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Cubs could be on the brink of a defining moment in the Theo Epstein Process.

But it’s not the kind of definition the front office sought when it took over baseball operations two years ago.

Conversations with general managers and other high-ranking executives from nearly half the other teams in baseball this week at the general managers meetings in Orlando revealed an expectation in the industry that Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija will be traded this off-season.

It would make him the first player identified by this front office as a “building block” to be traded during a rebuilding process that has gotten longer with every delay in stadium renovations and every question that arises over local TV rights deals.

And it’s starting to send the same message to executives around the game that fans have been getting since the Ricketts family bought the team and froze – then cut – baseball spending.

“If you do that, you’re saying you’re not trying to win,” said one long-time National League GM. “He’s a monster in the making. That’s not the kind of discussion that comes up in a planning meeting.”

Not with two years of club control left. Not if you’re operating as a big-market club with access to big-market operating resources – something many in the industry even outside the organization are starting to debate applies to the Cubs anymore.

Samardzija checks all the Cubs’ boxes, to use a phrase the brass likes – right attitude, leadership qualities, competitive nature and pure, raw power skills.

Yet when the winter meetings open in less than a month, he’s expected to be actively shopped – a potential scaled down alternative to Tampa Bay’s available ace David Price.

Two years into the Epstein-Jed Hoyer Era, the perception is creeping throughout the game that the Cubs are more Tampa Bay Rays than Los Angeles Dodgers – without the winning percentage of either to show for it.

“I don’t know what the plans are for the family, and I don’t know what their scaling is,” longtime agent and power broker Scott Boras said of the timeline. “I only know that their general managers tell us that their budget only allows them to do certain things.”

The Cubs won’t comment on specific plans for trades, but the team has sent clear signals that unless it reaches a multiyear deal with the arbitration-eligible pitcher this winter, it will trade him no later than next July’s trading deadline to avoid a steep decline in his trade value after that.

“In general, that’s one of the biggest challenges in this job,” said GM Hoyer, who would not talk specifically about Samardzija’s status or the team’s plans with him. “You always have to weigh the short term vs. the long term. The goal that we have is to build something that’s sustainable that brings a championship to Chicago. And our decisions are always made in that context.

“The short term vs. long term challenge is one of the biggest challenges that all 30 GMs face on a daily basis.”

Teams with lesser resources more keenly than others. And that’s a debate

Samardzija says he’s confident enough to go year to year as he proves his ultimate value while also wanting assurances the team intends to win while he’s still a young player if he commits longer term.

“In Chicago, it’s funny,” agent Scott Boras said. “A family bought the team. But it’s kind of like Meet the Parents. I haven’t met them yet.”

Boras wasn’t even referring to Ricketts patriarch Joe, the Ameritrade founder, father of the four siblings listed as owners and provider of the down payment on the $845 million purchase.

“I’m talking about, if this is a family-owned team, where is the [big-market approach]?” he said. “This is Chicago, and you’re developing the infrastructure. But fans don’t come to see seats, grass, cement. They come to see players.

“They’ve done a great job in the draft and development, and they’ve got a really good core of young players coming. But it’s not what’s expected when you bought … a major-market club.”

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