MESA, Ariz. – At the winter meetings, Cubs president Theo Epstein downplayed the Samardzija Watch trade speculation by saying: “Jeff is our Opening Day starter, and that’s how we’re moving forward unless something changes.”
Rick Renteria doesn’t want to make that announcement yet. The new manager penciled Samardzija in for Thursday’s Cubs Park unveiling/Cactus League opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Mesa.
But Renteria’s not ready to say who will draw the assignment on March 31 against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
“So many things can happen over the course of the spring that I’m not going to lock myself into trying to divulge something that I can’t really determine will be in the end,” Renteria said Monday.
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The expectation is the Cubs won’t move Samardzija until much closer to the July 31 trade deadline, when the supply/demand dynamics should be in their favor. Samardzija is two seasons away from free agency at a time when Epstein’s front office is collecting long-term assets for 2016 and beyond.
Renteria did map out the rotation for the next four Cactus League games after Samardzija. Chris Rusin will start Friday against the Los Angeles Angels in Tempe. Travis Wood will face the San Francisco Giants on Saturday afternoon in Mesa. Edwin Jackson gets the Diamondbacks on Saturday night in Scottsdale. Jason Hammel debuts against the Kansas City Royals on Sunday in Mesa.
Wood (9-12, 3.11 ERA) represented the Cubs at the All-Star Game last summer. Samardzija (8-13, 4.34 ERA) is the hometown, homegrown guy who put up 214 strikeouts in 213-plus innings last season. Renteria doesn’t want to make the Opening Day commitment right now.
“That’s a terrible thing to do, when you name somebody and all of a sudden it changes,” Renteria said. “We give you a name and then by elimination everybody starts deducing and speculating. I’ve got a large group of guys who are very talented. I really want to see what they can do. We’ll determine that as the days move forward and we get closer to (Opening Day).”