MESA, Ariz. – Jeff Samardzija is a realist. He’s the best pitcher on team with four straight fifth-place finishes. He’s only two years away from free agency. He will be a trade candidate unless he signs a multiyear contract extension – which, at the moment, appears unlikely.
Unless the Chicago Cubs are surprisingly competitive in the first half, he’s a strong candidate to be dealt in July – just as ex-teammates Alfonso Soriano, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Carlos Marmol were last year.
Samardzija recognizes all of this. He’s smart. He went to Notre Dame, remember?
“All I can do is increase my value as much as possible,” Samardzija said during an insightful and impressive session with reporters Friday afternoon. “In the end, it’s going to help the organization no matter what. It either helps the organization by keeping me here and proving to them that I’m that guy, or I increase my value and it helps them get prospects in return.
“I think Marlon Byrd said something like that when he got traded. If he gets traded and the team gets guys in return that make the organization better, then, as a professional athlete, you did your job. Your job is to increase your worth for that organization. What they decide to do with you is up to them.”
Score one for candor. If you’re the general manager of a team with the requisite prospects and pitching need – the Braves, the Dodgers, the Pirates, the Rangers, perhaps even the Mariners – then the 29-year-old Samardzija won’t be shocked to receive word you’ve traded for him.
Is he a dream pitching acquisition? No. He’s coming off an ordinary season (8-13, 4.34 ERA, 1.348 WHIP) in which he walked 78 batters, second-most in the National League. He talked Friday about a goal of reducing his walks to the “40s or 50s,” saying, “Efficiency is going to be a big thing for me.” If he’s successful, he will have the profile of at least a No. 2 starter. Few major leaguers are capable of throwing 200 innings and averaging one strikeout per inning. Samardzija did that in 2013 – during a down year.
In a perfect world – you know, the one where the Cubs won a World Series in the last century – Samardzija would like to maintain Wrigley Field as his work address. He was born and raised in nearby Indiana. He’s been a Cub since the team drafted him nearly eight years ago. He acknowledged having an “emotional attachment” to the organization.
Turns out, “emotional attachment” isn’t another way of saying “hometown discount,” because this is what Samardzija said shortly thereafter:
“A lot of times, you get the benefit of the doubt. That’s just the way it works because of the way I feel about being here and how bad I want to be here. The more this process goes along, though, the more I realize this is a business. That attachment only goes so far.”
So, unless the Cubs win early and often in 2014, prepare for a spring and summer of Jeff Samardzija trade rumors.