SAN FRANCISCO – Inevitably, Jeff Samardzija’s name would be attached to trade rumors as the Cubs continue with another summer selloff.
It went through the echo chamber on Saturday, with Fox Sports reporter Ken Rosenthal mentioning on-air the Cubs could consider dealing Samardzija and tweeting out an anonymous source saying they are listening and have a high asking price.
As team president Theo Epstein has repeatedly said: “No one’s untouchable.” But MLBTradeRumors.com picked it up, the blogs ran with it and the beat writers surrounded Samardzija’s locker inside AT&T Park’s visiting clubhouse.
“That’s a new one,” manager Dale Sveum said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. We have control over the guy for two-and-a-half more years.
“I think somebody just had to throw something out there and was bored and threw some silly rumor out there.”
One amused player walking through the clubhouse looked at Samardzija and said: “He gone! Trade rumors, they never lie.”
It’s interesting to see Samardzija being viewed as a trade-deadline game-changer after those years of shuttling between the North Side and Triple-A Iowa. The Boston Red Sox weren’t interested when his name came up during the Epstein compensation talks in the fall of 2011.
Samardzija is now the longest-tenured player in the Cubs clubhouse, the only one left from the 2008 team that won 97 games. The Opening Day starter is supposed to be part of “The Core” at a renovated Wrigley Field.
“I don’t have any control over that,” Samardzija said. “I don’t have a no-trade clause or anything like that. But I know I’m still protected and I’m still under control for a couple more years. So I’m in a little bit different case than the other guys. That’s comforting for me to know. (But) it’s out of my hands.
“It can be anyone saying anything. It doesn’t necessarily come from a trusted source.”
At the winter meetings last December, a team official tried to calculate what the return would have to be for Samardzija and couldn’t come up with an answer, given his age (28), free-agency clock (after the 2015 season) and how hard it is to find a No. 1 starter. Also factor in the durable 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame and a right arm that wasn’t shredded on year-round travel teams while he concentrated on football.
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A National League scout recently graded out Samardzija as a legitimate No. 2 starter with excellent makeup and a cerebral approach on the mound. When the Arizona Diamondbacks inquired, they were told it would start with two of the game’s elite pitching prospects – Archie Bradley and Tyler Skaggs – and the meter would keep running.
Samardzija joked about his run-in with Diamondbacks third-base coach Matt Williams on June 1 at Wrigley Field, where the two exchanged words and the next morning manager Kirk Gibson shrugged it off with “shut the (bleep) up and pitch.”
“Well, that’s cool. I’m glad they like me then. Apparently old Matty doesn’t hate me too much over there, huh?” Samardzija said. “Our job is to go out and pitch and they’re making decisions on what they feel is best for them. That’s that. I love pitching here. I love pitching at Wrigley.”
Samardzija wanted to pitch at least 200 more innings before seriously talking about a contract extension, a concept floated by the front office last offseason. He’s now 6-9 with a 3.94 ERA, 139 strikeouts in 137 innings and a face-of-the-franchise personality.
Samardzija secured a no-trade clause when he leveraged his All-American career at Notre Dame and made a $10 million deal with former general manager Jim Hendry. But that was voided once the Epstein administration declined to pick up an option after the 2011 season.
Epstein has left open the possibility that he could change his no no-trade clause policy in exceptional circumstances. It could be a bargaining chip for Samardzija, who understood why his good friend Ryan Dempster and beloved teammate Alfonso Soriano weighed their no-trade rights. But Samardzija hasn’t pushed negotiations yet.
“When I signed here originally, I had no idea what I was getting into by getting it,” Samardzija said. “I just kind of figured it was something else added to the contract. But (once I) got to the big leagues (and) got a better idea of the business side of things, it was an excellent thing to have. It allowed me to get situated in the city and know I wasn’t going anywhere. It kind of put us and the front office on the same page.
“It shows your commitment to the team and to the city that you want to be here through whatever happens. You’re committed to this team and there’s no other place that you want to be. I look at those things as a positive, but we haven’t even gotten that far anyway. That’s a bridge you cross when you get there.”
Samardzija’s betting on himself, believing he will be a frontline guy for years to come.
“I don’t put any importance on money anyway,” Samardzija said. “Your numbers in baseball speak for themselves. That’s what makes your money. … However you perform is how you get paid and that’s what I go by.”