MESA, Ariz. — Trade rumors will follow Jeff Samardzija right up until the moment the Cubs deal him to a playoff contender this summer.
That’s the reality, barring a stunning reversal for a 96-loss team or a complete philosophical shift on both sides in contract negotiations. But Samardzija promises this won’t be an issue, channeling Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and his tunnel vision: Do. Your. Job.
“Regardless of what the outside distractions (are), your numbers and your production on the field (speak for itself),” Samardzija said. “When it’s all said and done, they’re not going to say: ‘Well, he had this kind of year, BUT there was a lot of distractions, a lot of talks going on about trades, so we’re going to give him a break.’ It doesn’t happen like that. The bottom line is the bottom line.
“You concentrate on doing your job. You can make as many excuses for yourself as you want. But when it’s all said and done, that doesn’t fly. Your numbers are your numbers. Your record is your record.”
The scouts can get a look on Thursday at Cubs Park, where Samardzija will help christen the new stadium that’s a quick drive from his offseason home in Mesa. The longest-tenured player in the clubhouse will start the Cactus League opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team that inquired at last summer’s trade deadline and asked again this winter. Take a number.
“It comes down to where we’re at as a team,” Samardzija said, rattling off names like Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel and Jake Arrieta. “If we do our job and show that we’re pretty close to where we need to be, especially as a pitching staff, (then) that changes the plan.
“(It shows) this is an important core group of guys and we can’t break this up. Things happen fast — not only professional sports, but especially in baseball. It’s a 162-game season, but it goes day-to-day. If we come out and we get hot, (then) I think you’re going to hear the dialogue change.”
The Cubs might not have until Memorial Day to convince Theo Epstein’s front office that this group should stick together. They will face 2013 playoff teams in 25 of their first 41 games. They play in a National League Central that sent three teams to the postseason last year. They are matched up against the brutal American League East in interleague play.
“A lot of this dialogue is happening now because we’ve had two losing seasons,” Samardzija said. “So if we can change that around, then I think the perspective changes and then all of a sudden my situation changes. Our goal is to win on the field. And once that happens, then everything else irons itself out.”
Samardzija is 29 years old and two seasons away from free agency. He wants to win and get paid like a frontline starter. The Cubs want to see a more consistent, more efficient pitcher.
Only St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright threw more pitches than Samardzija (3,462) in the NL last season. Like so many other core players at Wrigley Field, Samardzija had his ups and downs, finishing at 8-13 with a 4.34 ERA and 214 strikeouts in 213.2 innings.
It’s late February and the speculation has already begun, though Samardzija says he stays off Twitter and MLBTradeRumors.com. His overall attitude: Whatever, dude.
“By keeping that mentality — you still have a job to do and excuses don’t hold any water — I think it’s pretty easy to come to terms with the situation,” Samardzija said. “(You) understand what’s important and what’s not important.”