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Cubs actively dangle Jeff Samardzija on first day of winter meetings

Cubs batter StarlCastro gestures Cubs dugout after his 9th inning double. The Chicago Cubs defeated Chicago White Sox 7-0 Monday

Cubs batter Starlin Castro gestures to the Cubs dugout after his 9th inning double. The Chicago Cubs defeated the Chicago White Sox 7-0 Monday, Memorial Day, May 27, 2013 at US Cellular Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 9, 2013 10:53PM



LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The building blocks on the Cubs’ major-league roster are so few and far between that they become especially conspicuous at an event such as baseball’s annual winter meetings this week.

It’s why the Cubs get calls on shortstop Starlin Castro even though they have no intention of trading him. And it’s why Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija was one of the hottest names/commodities at the opening of these meetings Monday, with the Cubs actively shopping him, according to numerous industry sources.

The biggest difference in the Cubs’ intentions about their two most valuable big-leaguers is the long-term view in a long-term building process, with Castro entering the second year of a seven-year deal and Samardzija unwilling to settle on his own market value in recent talks and unwilling to push winning into his 30s.

‘‘Obviously, there are timing considerations with any player when you enter the end of their control years,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said of Samardzija’s status, with little progress made in recent efforts at contract talks.

In Samardzija’s case, it means that even with two seasons of club control left — and even with a rare 200-inning, 200-strikeout starter — a trade might be the best way to leverage long-term value with him.

Especially, perhaps, in a pitching market moving faster than normal this offseason. The Arizona Diamondbacks have long pursued Samardzija and might be the front-runners if he’s moved this winter.

The Cubs are asking a steep price in talent for Samardzija, sources say, and that could lead to Samardzija making it to Opening Day with the Cubs, then getting moved at the July trade deadline.

In the meantime, could the Cubs’ ability to compete for Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka be enhanced by the inability to give Samardzija a big deal?

Hoyer said those are independent considerations.

‘‘We’re not looking at them as joined or not joined,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s no influence on each other.’’

That could suggest Tanaka being a long shot either way. The bigger influence on Samardzija’s market figures to be where the Tampa Bay Rays’ trade talks on Cy Young winner David Price go.

The buzz

Seeking bullpen help, the Cubs have expressed interest in Washington Nationals right-hander Drew Storen, with a less likely option, Tyler Clippard, also mentioned in conversations. The Nats are looking at Cubs left-hander James Russell. Outfielder Nate Schierholtz, also drawing some early winter buzz from teams, could be a fit as well.

◆ Hoyer suggested Castro was not in top shape much of last season and praised the work he has done this winter with strength coach Tim Buss.

‘‘We felt like there’s no reason he can’t be a little bit faster and can have even more range than he does,” Hoyer said. ‘‘It’s something he wanted to do, and we encouraged him.

‘‘I think he was frustrated by his season, and I would be very surprised if he didn’t show up in spring training in really good shape.’’

◆ Carlos Marmol back in the National League Central? Sources say the Milwaukee Brewers and Boston Red Sox are among the teams talking to the former Cubs closer.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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