Jeff Samardzija will be one of the most talked-about players at next week’s winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The Cubs tendered Samardzija a 2014 contract before Monday night’s deadline, a procedural move that leaves open their biggest question walking into the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin: Do you trade him or try to sign him to a long-term deal?
The Washington Nationals — a win-now team that had shown interest in Samardzija — no longer appear to be an option. They acquired another frontline pitcher who hasn’t yet turned 30 and remains under club control through the 2015 season: Doug Fister.
Dave Dombrowski might be the game’s best trader and boldest executive, but what the Detroit Tigers received in Monday’s big deal looked underwhelming at first glance: pitching prospect Robbie Ray, lefty reliever Ian Krol and utility guy Steve Lombardozzi (plus added payroll flexibility).
The Cubs can take their time with Samardzija in an offseason where the Tampa Bay Rays could shop Cy Young winner David Price and uncertainty has surrounded Masahiro Tanaka and the Japanese posting system. Matt Garza — who already went through the rumor madness with the Cubs — is among the bigger-name free agents still on the board.
As expected, the Cubs also tendered contracts to six other arbitration-eligible players: second baseman Darwin Barney; outfielder Nate Schierholtz; infielder Luis Valbuena; and pitchers Travis Wood, James Russell and Pedro Strop.
The Cubs also struck one-year deals with infielder Donnie Murphy ($825,000 plus incentives) and backup catcher George Kottaras ($1.075 million plus incentives). Their 40-man roster is at 37 after relievers Chang-Yong Lim and Daniel Bard and infielder Mat Gamel were non-tendered.
Samardzija (8-13, 4.34 ERA) earned $2.64 million during an up-and-down 2013 season in which he still cleared the 200 innings/200 strikeouts marks and showed signs of being a clubhouse leader.
[RELATED: Cubs will non-tender Bard, sign McDonald]
Samardzija already made his money by leveraging a potential NFL career as an All-American wide receiver coming out of the University of Notre Dame. He’s a Chicago guy who didn’t want to rush into a club-friendly deal, preferring to get more innings under his belt before making a big decision about his future. He has watched the Cubs lose 197 games across the past two seasons and believes he has the stuff to pitch in October.
This December will be about trying to put a number on Samardzija’s potential — and weighing that against the possible returns in a blockbuster deal and where the Cubs are at in their rebuilding process.
If the Nationals are out, there won’t be a shortage of teams interested in a cost-controlled, 6-foot-5, 225-pound power pitcher with a competitive streak and all that confidence.