Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija hasn’t always had the best attitude toward the organization that drafted him four years ago, and paid him $10 million to forgo a career as a wide receiver in the NFL. Because he’d never been a full-time baseball player, Samardzija was understandably slow to develop consistency as a pitcher, and the Cubs, for their part, didn’t help – eager to get their money’s worth, they rushed him a bit, and were quick to swap him back and forth from reliever to starter, and from Major Leagues to minor leagues.
Last year, Samardzija had an opportunity to win a rotation spot in Spring Training, but was outpitched by each of the other prospective starters – that was undebatable. He, however, did not take it well, and quickly flamed out in the bullpen before heading back to the minors.
This year, Samardzija will again be in the big league camp, but he won’t be competing for a rotation spot; he’ll be competing just to make the team. Knowing his role, he says, will help.
“I guess if you want to pick a positive out of it, at least I’m going into camp knowing what I’m going to be, and I’ll be able to get ready for the season in that role,” Samardzija said yesterday on an ESPN1000 interview with Waddle and Silvy. “It won’t be with a week left of camp [after starting] I’m in the pen and got to get ready for the season as a reliever. I’ll be able to fall into a role and stay in that role until Opening Day. It will be nice.
“I’m in a great spot right now. What’s happened over the past couple of years and being toyed around up and down, from starting and relieving, I really feel like I’ve kind of been through the ringer. I’m ready to come out this year and have a nice strong year and propel me into the future with the Cubs.”
Could he be a little more diplomatic in the way he says things? Yes. Could he sound a little more grateful and a little less irked? Yes.
But ultimately, what matters is that he pitches well – and the first step is accepting that, if he’s going to make the big club, it’s as a reliever. He seems to have accepted that, and taken to it. I fully expect Samardzija to have a much better Spring than he has the last two; and recall, he was dominant in his first stint as a reliever with the Cubs in late 2008.
Samardzija wants to be a Cub; there’s no doubt about that. But, because he’s out of options, it’s this year or never.