Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija knows he could be gone by trade deadline
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter February 14, 2014 8:01PM
Updated: February 16, 2014 12:04AM
MESA, Ariz. — One hundred sixty-six days.
Get your tickets now if you’re a Jeff Samardzija fan, and get a good look at the Cubs’ Opening Day starter while you can. Because even he knows his Cubs career is on the clock as spring training opens.
And he knows the 166 days until the trading deadline might be even a little optimistic in terms of how much time he has left with the Cubs.
“All I can do is increase my value as much as possible, and I think in the end it’s going to help the organization no matter what,” he said Friday as the Cubs held their first official workouts of the spring. “Either it helps the organization by keeping me here and proving to them that I’m that guy, or I increase my value and it helps them get prospects in return.”
Samardzija, 29, avoided arbitration a week ago when he agreed to a one-year, $5.345 million deal. And he has another year of arbitration eligibility left.
But after 16 months of stalemate on terms of a potential long-term contract, he was shopped over the winter and — barring a sudden reversal of his status — is poised to be traded before his trade value drops dramatically after the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
“Both sides are justified; it’s not like anyone is asking for some outlandish concept,” said Samardzija, whose inability to reach an agreement has more to do with his confidence in his rising value as a potential frontline starter and a skepticism over how committed the organization is to ending this rebuilding process any time soon.
Complicating the situation is a history with the third-year front office that includes cutting his salary in 2012 and freezing it in 2013, along with a club policy against no-trade clauses (providing even less incentive for compromising for the purpose of staying where he wants to be).
Samardzija, who maintains good relationships with front-office bosses, talked again about the “tough” task of separating the business end of the game from the “emotional attachment” he has for the team that drafted the northwest Indiana native out of Notre Dame in 2006.
He talked about “how bad I want to be here,” adding, “The more this process goes along, though, the more I realize that it is a business, and that attachment only goes so far.”
It leaves him in the same category as newcomer Jason Hammel, this year’s Scott Feldman/Paul Maholm-like flip candidate in the starting rotation.
“I knew I was going to get that question,” Hammel said with a smile on his first day of media interviews after signing a one-year, $6 million deal.
For now, both pitchers say the same thing: that they plan to concentrate on their pitching and hope to still be Cubs at the end of the season.
“All I can do is my job to the fullest and keep being wanted,” Samardzija said.
But the reality of the Cubs’ lengthy, underfunded rebuilding process is that the front office likely will be compelled to trade 40 percent of its starting rotation for the third consecutive year to bolster the pitching pipeline in the farm system.
‘‘I think that comes down to where we’re at as a team,” Samardzija said. “We come out and we get hot as a team, I think you’re going to hear the dialogue change.
“But it’s all speculation, and you’ve got to start playing on the field before you get a better answer, a better feel for that. . . . Sometimes you’re just a product of the situation. I think that’s where I’m at.”