Samardzija says Tanaka outcome will have ‘ripple effect’ on him
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter January 17, 2014 10:06PM
Updated: February 19, 2014 9:51AM
The latest version of Cubs Moneyball was delivered Friday by right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who linked his willingness to sign a contract extension to the team’s ability to land Japanese free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
‘‘Obviously, a lot of people are talking about Tanaka and everything going on there,’’ said Samardzija, whose stalemate in 15-month-long extension talks put him on the trading block this winter. ‘‘There’s a ripple effect.’’
At this point, slow free-agent and trade markets for pitchers — and a sky-high asking price by the Cubs in trade talks, according to sources — make it likely Samardzija will make a second consecutive Opening Day start for the North Siders this season. And likely to go up for auction again near the trade deadline this summer.
But if the Cubs land Tanaka with the bid and presentation they made last week in Los Angeles, might it lead to a softening of Samardzija’s negotiating position and create a greater likelihood he will stay? And if they don’t, will it kill off two rotation birds with one stone and push them further back in the rebuilding process?
‘‘Obviously, it changes that timeline,’’ said Samardzija, who consistently has said the Cubs’ commitment to trying to win at the big-league level in the short term is one of his top priorities in negotiations. ‘‘And that’s what we’re talking about.
‘‘I’ve mentioned my frustration with the ‘R’ word before. You bring him in, and that ‘R’ word essentially kind of disintegrates.’’
For now, ‘‘R’’ stands for reality. Despite the Cubs’ serious intentions, not even their brass is confident their bid will beat out the depth of the big-spending Dodgers’ wallet or the urgency of the big-spending Yankees’ need for starting pitching.
President Theo Epstein again wouldn’t comment about the Tanaka situation Friday. And about Samardzija’s status with the Cubs, he said only: ‘‘I’m a big fan of Jeff Samardzija. I actually think his best days are ahead of him. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, but I can tell you I’m really happy that he’s a Cub and really looking forward to him getting the ball on Opening Day.’’
Samardzija, who will turn 29 this month, is under club control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2015. But if the Cubs can’t sign him to a long-term extension, his value would drop dramatically after the trade deadline July 31.
Neither side will talk publicly about extension talks, but Samardzija has made it clear he’s comfortable taking another year or two to establish the value he thinks he has as a front-of-the-rotation starter and is in no hurry to sign an extension based on a perceived current value that doesn’t reflect that.
‘‘I’m still wearing a Cubs uniform, and I’m going to approach it just like that,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m still going to work hard and give my heart and soul to this organization, like I have since day one.’’