James Russell gave Jeff Samardzija the beer-and-a-cigarette sendoff on the Fourth of July in Washington. And then the Cubs reliever had to wonder if he would be the next one to get traded.
It’s hard to see Theo Epstein’s front office topping that six-player blockbuster with the Oakland A’s. But this is a clubhouse where no one is untouchable, and by now Russell is used to seeing his name in rumors.
“I’m here and I’m going to make the best of it,” Russell said. “I hope to stay here for the long run, and be around whenever we start winning some ballgames, and hopefully fighting for playoff spots.
“That’s the future of this plan, and I’d like to stick around and wait it out.”
Now that Samardzija’s gone, Russell’s believed to be the only guy left with that powder blue “(Bleep) the Goat” T-shirt still in his rotation. Russell made the 2010 Opening Day roster and has survived this long, pitching for Lou Piniella, Mike Quade, Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria.
But Russell, 28, could help a contending team right now, and the Cubs like the young relievers they’ve already incorporated into their bullpen, while collecting more at the farm system’s upper levels.
Russell has some mileage on his left arm, beginning Tuesday with 186 appearances since 2012. But scouts also like his guts, makeup and bloodlines. His father, Jeff, lasted 14 years in the big leagues and notched 186 saves.
Russell has a 2.84 ERA through 35 games and opponents are hitting .193 against him. He got buried earlier this season and didn’t pitch between April 23 and May 3. But he didn’t allow an earned run between May 13 and July 2, a streak that lasted 16.1 innings.
Samardzija became the headliner, but there are a few other Cubs who could be packing up their stuff and wearing a new uniform by July 31.
“It’s one of those things that coming into the year we kind of knew there was a chance it could happen,” Russell said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get off to a really hot start in April and that kind of hurt us.
“But it’s part of the business and you deal with it. Maybe in a year-and-a-half we’ll cross paths again and find ourselves in the same city playing again.”
With the long hair flowing out of his hat, autograph-seeking fans have confused Russell for Samardzija during batting practice. Like Samardzija, Russell is positioned to become a free agent after the 2015 season – and already thinking about a package deal.
“You never know,” Russell said. “Maybe we’ll still be here and he’ll come back. Maybe it’s elsewhere. Who knows?”
Russell laughed at the idea of being a LeBron James calling shots for the Miami Heat. Samardzija and Russell would need one more to form their Big Three. (Andrew Cashner won’t be a free agent until after the 2016 season.)
“I’m sure we could find some people,” Russell said.