BOSTON – Jeff Samardzija’s numb to all the speculation about his future, so here’s a blast from the past: What if the Cubs had traded him for Theo Epstein?
Samardzija’s name came up during the bitter compensation negotiations with the Red Sox in October 2011, though the Cubs weren’t inclined to give up someone from their 40-man roster for the Boston GM. And it’s not like the industry consensus saw Samardzija in position to someday command a nine-figure megadeal, because the Notre Dame wide receiver hadn’t come close to living up to his baseball potential yet.
“I remember being talked about a little bit,” Samardzija said Wednesday, standing inside Fenway Park’s cramped visiting clubhouse. “If I remember correctly, it was me, Trey McNutt, Brett Jackson, and they ended up getting (Chris) Carpenter.
“That (seems like) a long time ago.”
Samardzija was coming off a breakthrough season as a reliever (8-4, 2.97 ERA), but wanted the chance to start. The Cubs viewed Jackson as untouchable, but the former first-round pick is now hitting .215 at Triple-A Iowa.
At the time, McNutt was regarded as probably the best pitching prospect in a farm system weakened by the Matt Garza trade, but the right-hander has struggled with injuries throughout his career.
The matter wasn’t settled until February 2012, when the Cubs shipped Carpenter to the Red Sox (with players to be named later) in spring training. Carpenter, who had flashed 100-mph velocity, is now in Japan with the Yakult Swallows.
“I learned that just from print and stuff online, but I never heard anything,” Samardzija said. “I was never warned ‘be prepared’ or anything like that.
“It’s just crazy the paths careers take.”
It would have been difficult for Samardzija to develop into a frontline starter with a win-now team or the dysfunctional environment that overwhelmed Bobby Valentine’s 2012 Red Sox.
But Samardzija, who loves pitching on the big stage, gave props to Fenway Park.
“They’ve just done a nice job of working with the space that they have,” Samardzija said. “There’s a lot of the similar problems here that we have at Wrigley, with just sheer acreage. If you don’t have enough of it, you got to really make do with what they have.
“The atmosphere here is outstanding. The fans are into it and it’s a very interactive place with their big screens and things like that. Everyone stays into the game and is paying attention.
“Every pitch, it seems like there’s a certain quiet that comes over the stadium and then they react.”
Whether or not Samardzija does a Carmelo Anthony tour, he intends to test the free-agent market after the 2015 season. The Cubs have privately expressed hopes about bringing the Northwest Indiana guy back home, though that sounds like a long-shot scenario, a difficult-to-execute move.
Samardzija (2-7, 2.83 ERA) is in the All-Star conversation and will be traded by the July 31 deadline (and not for a president of baseball operations). The ending still has to be written, but both sides won when Samardzija met his new bosses in the early days of the Epstein administration.
The same day Dale Sveum had his introductory press conference at Wrigley Field, Samardzija met with the new manager and Epstein, lobbying for the chance to start and explaining how he would prepare to throw 200 innings.
“If you don’t ask, you usually don’t get,” Samardzija said. “It never hurts to ask. And there are times when you do things that show them that you have confidence in yourself. A lot of times that’s all it takes, a little reassurance on their part that: ‘Hey, this guy wants this and it means something to him, so he’s not going to waste the opportunity when he gets it.’”