The Cubs won’t be releasing an official 100-word statement updating their status with Jeff Samardzija.
That’s what the Detroit Tigers did to Max Scherzer, breaking off negotiations with the American League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner and essentially giving the middle finger to Boras Corp. A week later, it’s still time-stamped and preserved on the team’s official website.
Samardzija and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein have told their sides of the story, in private and through the media. There’s really not that much left to say anymore. The Cubs will give Samardzija the ball on Monday afternoon at PNC Park, hoping he beats the Pittsburgh Pirates and pitches lights-out for the next three months.
“I think my relationship is really good with him,” Epstein said. “We’ve had good, honest talks. I think we get along. I really like him. I don’t know if he likes me or not.”
Epstein laughed: “I don’t think it really matters. But we get along really well and we share information and we’re very open with one another about how we see the situation. I think we see it the same way. I think we see probably 98 percent of it the same way.”
It’s the 2 percent that will push the Cubs to move their Opening Day starter by the July 31 deadline. As a kid growing up in Northwest Indiana, and now the longest-tenured player on the team, Samardzija has watched the franchise’s arc, from the 2008 team that won 97 games to the small-market austerity program instituted by the Ricketts family and Sam Zell’s Tribune Co.
After Game 162 last year – the end of an inconsistent season that saw him go 8-13 with a 4.34 ERA and 214 strikeouts in 213-plus innings – Samardzija stood inside Busch Stadium’s visiting clubhouse and envied the St. Louis Cardinals. He sounded frustrated, saying you’re just “buying time” if you’re not gunning for October.
“When you’re trading guys in the first week of July, it’s tough on the team,” Samardzija explained months later. “It’s tough come the last day of the season, regardless of where you’re at or what the outcome is. You’ve been battling that for three months and still scraping and clawing to get every win for your teammates and for your coaches.
“It’s very tough to just say: ‘It’s OK. Well, this is fine.’ Regardless of what the big-picture plan is, reality is reality at the time. And I don’t think too much has changed now – the reality is we need to win and we need to win soon.”
Samardzija, who’s now 29 years old, has to think about how much of his athletic prime will be left by the time the Cubs graduate their elite prospects to the big leagues. Ownership has a hazy timeline for contending. The front office has a policy of not giving out no-trade clauses and a tradition of dealing away 40 percent of the rotation in the summer.
The ultra-confidence and fearless attitude that drove the All-American Notre Dame wide receiver has spilled over to the bargaining table. It’s been about 16 months since the two sides first discussed concepts for a multi-year extension, and there’s been no real traction.
No one thinks Samardzija is near the level of Scherzer, who reportedly turned down Detroit’s six-year, $144 million offer, so he can play out his walk year. The Cubs will push back on the comparisons to Homer Bailey, who recently signed a six-year, $105 million contract with the Cincinnati Reds, but Samardzija knows the price of pitching is only going to skyrocket.
The New York Yankees don’t have the prospects. The Washington Nationals aren’t interested now. The Texas Rangers won’t be so eager to jump into another short-term trade with the Cubs. The Arizona Diamondbacks, Toronto Blue Jays and Atlanta Braves seem to lead the league in Samardzija rumors.
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But those will start up again on Twitter as soon as a pitcher on a good team leaves a start early or heads for an MRI. Reporters tried to connect the dots when Samardzija put a Lakeview condo on the market – even though it’s a rental property he hasn’t lived in for years.
“He’s going to control what he can control,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s more focused on the day-to-day actions of being a Cub than anything else. He’s all-in.
“We’re very thankful for that, because it could be a distraction over the course of time. But I think as a professional he understands what he can control and what he can’t control. Right now, he’s a Cub. And he’s trying to be the best Cub he can possibly be.”
One long-shot scenario floating around would have the Cubs trading Samardzija this summer and then trying to re-sign him after the 2015 season, because he would check all the boxes as a free agent and a young core of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro should be maturing by then.
Samardzija has the bright-lights, big-city personality. His 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame should be sturdy enough to hold up for several seasons. He’s a Chicago guy whose first choice would be to play close to home.
“He’s committed to giving you 110 percent every single day,” Renteria said, “whether he’s out there training or he’s out there in between the lines. It’s a great trait to have. It’s much easier, at times, to pull the reins back on somebody than try to get them to go and be committed to something. He’s committed.”
Samardzija already has the blinders on, trying to ignore what could be three more months of wall-to-wall trade rumors.
“I love to compete,” Samardzija said. “It doesn’t matter what we’re doing. It doesn’t matter if we’re in a parking lot or on a big-league field. I just love to go out and compete. That’s the bottom line.”