MIAMI – Reed Johnson played Cubs general manager for the “Superhero” road trip before the 2012 trade deadline, putting on a wig, pressing his cell phone to his ear and channeling Jed Hoyer.
Johnson isn’t pulling the strings for the Miami Marlins, but he’ll have an answer ready if his bosses ask about Jeff Samardzija, this summer’s big-game pitcher on the block.
“We’d take him over here in a heartbeat,” Johnson said Monday at Marlins Park. “I don’t know what the guys in the front office (are thinking). But I think he’s not only a good pitcher, he’s (also) got what it takes mentally to succeed. He believes in himself. I don’t know if I can say it, but he’s got (guts).”
Johnson and Jeff Baker – who dressed as team president Theo Epstein in khaki pants and a blue Cubs polo – didn’t last long after that classic stunt. (Anyone else remember ex-manager Dale Sveum as “Hellboy?”) The role players/glue guys took their talents to South Beach to become part of a surprising Marlins team that’s right there in a jam-packed National League East.
A 5-4 loss that took 13 innings left the Marlins (35-34) in third place, trailing the Atlanta Braves by a game and a half-game behind the Washington Nationals.
As the trade rumors pick up speed, Johnson also laid out the reasons why the Cubs are expected to make a last-ditch effort to see if they can keep Samardzija as a foundation piece for the rebuild.
“You got a guy that’s not afraid to go after people,” Johnson said. “That’s a guy that you want in your organization, to build a team around. It sets a precedent for the rest of the pitchers. They see not only his stuff, but just his mentality, the way he goes out there, and I’m sure playing football has helped that out quite a bit.”
Johnson has watched Samardzija evolve from a Notre Dame novelty, to a reliever on the 2008 team that won 97 games, to a pitcher in limbo, to someone who can be counted on for 200-plus innings.
[MORE CUBS: Travis Wood comes through in the clutch]
“That guy is really special and he’s going to be good for a long time,” Johnson said. “He’s a big body. Yeah, he may break down. A lot of pitchers have shoulder issues and elbow problems and are in really good shape and have smooth deliveries. You just never know when that’s going to happen. But percentage-wise, for a guy like that to stay healthy, it’s probably a little higher, just because he’s a big boy and he keeps himself in shape. Those guys tend to stick around.”
In a flurry of moves, the Marlins called up top prospect Andrew Heaney, a 23-year-old lefty who will make his big-league debut on Thursday against the New York Mets and hopefully provide a spark. The Marlins also introduced No. 2 overall pick Tyler Kolek, who got a $6 million signing bonus after drawing comparisons to Kerry Wood for his 100-mph velocity and Texas roots.
Miami owner Jeffrey Loria hung out in the clubhouse before Monday’s game, along with president of baseball operations Mike Hill and general manager Dan Jennings. With ace Jose Fernandez recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Marlins will get a chance to see Samardzija (2-6, 2.77 ERA) up close on Tuesday night in Little Havana.
“If they ask me about him, I’d tell them exactly how I feel about him,” Johnson said. “I’ve told a bunch of people in here. I feel like he’s the one guy that’s on the market right now (I’d be looking at) if I was any of these teams.
“You don’t want to rent a guy, give away a bunch of players and then you have him for two months and you don’t even end up making the playoffs. You’ve lost prospects. You get nothing.
“A team that’s going to (trade for) Jeff is not only going to use him for those two months, they got ulterior motives. They’re going to look at signing him for the long-term.”
Samardzija has admitted signing an extension with a new team that close to free agency would be a tough sell. He can test the market after the 2015 season and would need to be convinced the Cubs are heading in the right direction. Whatever happens next, it will be a turning point for the “Superheroes” running baseball operations at Clark and Addison.