Jeff Samardzija says every Cub must prove he belongs
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org August 23, 2012 10:08PM
The facts: 1:20 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM.
The starters: Jeff Samardzija (8-11, 4.17 ERA) vs. Drew Pomeranz (1-7, 4.87).
THE REST OF THE SERIES
Saturday: 12:05 p.m., CSN, 720-AM. Brooks Raley (1-2, 7.63) vs. Alex White (2-6, 5.55).
Sunday: 1:20 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM. Chris Volstad (0-9, 6.88) vs. Jhoulys Chacin (1-3, 6.16).
Updated: September 25, 2012 10:55AM
Bryan LaHair hurried into the Cubs’ clubhouse from a back room the other day in Milwaukee and announced, “Shark Attack.’’
He turned the channel to MLB Network, where teammate Jeff Samardzija was being interviewed by onetime spring-training Cub Kevin Millar on subjects ranging from fans heckling him by yelling “Rudy’’ (“Hey, I had a scholarship’’) to where he has seen better-looking women, Notre Dame student section or Wrigley Field bleachers (‘‘Definitely Wrigley bleachers. At Notre Dame they might be smarter, but …’’).
On a day the kiddie-corps Cubs eventually lost again on a 1-6 road trip, Samardzija’s TV appearance injected some much-needed laughter into the clubhouse.
It was also a glimpse into the kind of personality Cubs officials and teammates such as Matt Garza see when they talk about leadership he might bring to the pitching staff next season.
“I just want to pitch,’’ said Samardzija, who opens a 10-game homestand on the mound Friday against the Colorado Rockies. ‘‘Obviously, I would love to have that role and be part of that with Garza. …
“A lot’s going to happen over these next five or six weeks. We’re going to see how we play as a team, who can play here and who can’t. And then spring training’s going to be crazy next year. Everybody out here playing [for this team] has something to prove. … You’ve got to prove that you can play to stay.’’
In a few weeks, Samardzija, 27, should finish proving he’s a bona fide, durable big-league starting pitcher capable of anchoring the pitching side of the Cubs’ rebuilding project.
It’s the mission he and the front office hoped he’d accomplish when they discussed his move to the rotation last winter.
It’s also part of the vision the previous front office had in mind when it drafted the likable, confident football star/power pitcher from Notre Dame in 2006.
And in a place like Chicago, for a team like the Cubs with its rich cult-of-personality tradition, Samardzija could fill a larger-than-life role if he can build on what has been a successful transition from the bullpen.
But whether he gets the chance to build on that to become a long-term fan favorite might have as much to do with what the guys around him prove as much as his own performance.
If Theo Epstein’s front office has proved anything in its first year at the helm, it’s that building up the farm system is its single-minded priority, and everything else is a distant second.
Even Samardzija understands that could mean that if the big-league club doesn’t look ready to win within a year or two, he could be viewed as a commodity more valuable in a trade for ‘‘long-term assets’’ than as a near-30 veteran on a team still rebuilding.
Epstein, after all, is the general manager who traded Red Sox icon Nomar Garciaparra to great outcry three months before Boston’s first World Series championship in 86 years.
“I’m not a GM; I’m a player,’’ Samardzija said. ‘‘They have every right as long as I don’t have a no-trade clause to do whatever they want. All I can do is prove to them that if you do trade me, you might not be able to replace it.’’
He shouldn’t count on that no-trade thing, even if he’s next in line for the kind of long-term extension Starlin Castro is about to finalize.
In keeping with Epstein’s longtime policy, that seven-year, $60 million deal won’t include a no-trade clause, according to sources. That would make Castro’s contract even more valuable as a potential high-value asset to trade should the Yankees or Phillies be in need of a shortstop when Derek Jeter or Jimmy Rollins is done.
“Your job as a player is to prove to them that you’re a key piece to the puzzle and that moving you would hurt more than it would help,’’ Samardzija said.
And if the players left on this roster didn’t already know it, turning the Cubs around any time soon — and assuring a lengthy stay in Chicago — is up to them. Right now.
Samardzija, for one, isn’t prepared to wait long for his team to be competitive.
“Not long at all,’’ he said. “I’m not a very patient person. I’m going to do everything I can to be ready to go for next season.’’