Jeff Samardzija lobbied new team president Theo Epstein for the chance to start, meeting with Dale Sveum the same day the manager had his introductory press conference at Wrigley Field in November 2011.
Samardzija outlined how he would train in Arizona’s distraction-free zone and prepare his body for 200 innings. He explained why he’d be a good fit for the rotation. A Jim Hendry guy became a building block for the Epstein administration.
With less than 24 hours until Wednesday’s non-waiver deadline, the Cubs don’t expect a contending team to tear apart its farm system for Samardzija, who’s 28 years old and positioned to become a free agent after the 2015 season.
“If somebody asks, sure, (you listen), if somebody brings up a name,” Sveum said before Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers. “It’s not realistic. This is me speaking. I’m not the president. But I think it’s very, very far-fetched when you have a guy that’s under control for that long and possibly a No. 1 guy. (Do) you want to trade half your team (for him)?”
While national media speculation has generated a lot of Twitter buzz, Samardzija’s position hasn’t really changed. In the same way that he bet on himself after a breakthrough 2011 season as a reliever, he’s doubling down as a starter.
By this winter, Samardzija will be able to leverage two seasons in the Cubs rotation as he negotiates a market-price deal, not the kind of potentially club-friendly contracts signed by core players Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Sources familiar with the situation said ideally both sides would like to make Samardzija a centerpiece for the next contending team at Clark and Addison, with talks being pushed to the offseason.
“I don’t think I came in with any preconceived notions about Samardzija,” Epstein said on Opening Day. “I knew he was a talented guy who hadn’t quite found his place yet. But I was really intrigued by what he did the second half of 2011 (2.23 ERA in 36 relief appearances).
“Just based on his talent — and then the dedication he showed in that meeting — he was someone worth taking a chance on and giving him an opportunity in the rotation. Since then, it’s been nothing but impressive.
“This guy can be a real leader of this team for a long time to come, and that’s difficult to say for a starting pitcher. I don’t think most starting pitchers are comfortable taking on a leadership role. But I think he’s so dedicated to winning and to this organization that he’s got a chance to accomplish that.”
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Samardzija has 95-mph velocity, an athletic NFL body and a fresh arm that wasn’t worn out by playing baseball 12 months a year while growing up in Indiana and going to Notre Dame. He’s made 50 starts since this experiment began, going 15-22 with a 3.78 ERA and 326 strikeouts in 318 2/3 innings.
After throwing seven shutout innings in Monday night’s 5-0 loss to the Brewers, a reporter asked Samardzija about the perception that he gets up for big games — Opening Day or pitching on the South Side or playing the St. Louis Cardinals.
“That’s not an issue,” he said. “I come to pitch every game. It has a lot to do with mechanics and how you feel every individual day. It’s not always there every day, and you've got to figure out how to get it done when it’s not. Every fifth day is your day to pitch, and I come ready to pitch.”