Jeff Samardzija ready to escape from Cubs’ Alcatraz
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter April 26, 2014 11:16PM
Right-hander Jeff Samardzija is winless in five starts, despite having a 1.53 ERA and allowing only six earned runs. | David Welker/Getty Images
Updated: May 28, 2014 6:54AM
MILWAUKEE — The ones who have left talk as if they’ve escaped.
As if the Cubs have become baseball’s Alcatraz, where players do time until free agency or the inevitable trade while the lucky ones get reduced sentences by virtue of one-year flip contracts.
Just listen to Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Matt Garza’s advice to Jeff Samardzija, who will be on the trading block this summer.
“All I can tell him is keep pitching; pitch your way out of it,” said Garza, who was acquired by the Cubs in 2011 to help the team win, but instead endured the worst three-year stretch in franchise history. “Keep your eyes focused, your eyes straight ahead and just pitch. There’s nothing else you can do.”
Except maybe keep track of the days by scratching marks on the cell-block wall.
Nobody could blame Samardzija for taking the advice of his friend and former teammate, not with the way he has pitched this season without a win to show for it.
The powerful right-hander is in the top six in the National League in ERA and top five in innings pitched but has lost would-be wins to blown saves (twice) and zero run support (twice).
“I told him, ‘It doesn’t matter, dude, you play in Chicago,’ ’’ Garza said. “ ‘I was there, and I lost 30 wins in three seasons. It’s not your fault. You pitch your way out of there.’ ”
Garza (traded to the Texas Rangers last July), New York Yankees outfielder Alfonso Soriano (traded to the Yankees in July) and Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez (free agent after 2011) all say the same thing when they look at what the Cubs have become under Theo Epstein’s stewardship.
They found relief and new life when they left for teams that were trying to win. And they’re glad they’re gone.
Especially after seeing a 2014 version of the Cubs that fell to 7-16 after its 5-3 loss to the Brewers on Saturday. There is no discernable end to the process.
“It’s huge,” Ramirez said. “We’ve all been around for a while, and the next thing for us is winning. We don’t want to be in a development situation and a rebuilding process. I don’t have 10 years left. I have to try to win now, and same thing for Garza and Sori.”
Garza, 30, and Samardzija, 29, were young enough for the Cubs to pursue long-term deals. But neither wanted to settle for mid-market prices from the big-market Cubs, especially with no assurances that winning was on the immediate horizon.
And the Cubs’ brass didn’t have the will — or perhaps the resources — to risk bigger bets on the potential frontline starters.
Now Samardzija is all but certain to go the way of Soriano, Garza, Scott Feldman, Ryan Dempster and several others the last two years: traded for prospects in July.
“I’m hoping the best for him because he’s a young kid who deserves a shot to maybe go win something,” Garza said.
Maybe in New York, said Soriano.
“I love Samardzija. I hope he comes here,” he said during the Cubs’ recent trip to New York. “If not here, somewhere he feels comfortable and gets a chance to win. Because that’s what it’s all about. At the end of the day, we play to win. We don’t play to have fun and just lose. We play to be a champion.”
Ramirez finds it hard to believe the Cubs aren’t doing more to build around Samardzija.
“You just don’t find those guys,” he said. “I’d take him, for sure. Who wouldn’t take Samardzija? He’s the perfect guy for any ballclub.”
Samardzija isn’t trying to escape. But he is hungry to win.
“Everybody’s here for the present,” he said. “Tomorrow’s not guaranteed to anybody, let alone next year or the year after that.”