Jeff Samardzija, perhaps the most discussed Chicago Cubs player this offseason – no small accomplishment, given the Starlin Castro/Anthony Rizzo focus, as well as the actually really good seasons put in by Travis Wood and Welington Castillo last year – met with the media yesterday to discuss all manner of topics.
Samardzija, 29, is under team control for 2014 and 2015, and there’s a serious question about how good the Cubs may or may not be for those two years. That combination of things – the team control, but the crumminess – provides an undercurrent for virtually everything Samardzija is asked these days, and necessarily informs his responses.
You can listen to Samardzija’s press conference here at ESPNChicago, but among the highlights:
- Samardzija said everyone believed from the start of the arbitration exchange of numbers that they’d come to an agreement on the 2014 contract. It just took so long because folks have a job to do.
- Yeah, but what about a long-term deal? “You know, we are not really going to talk about that,” Samardzija said. “We are worried about this season. We are looking to get ready to compete and win some ballgames. We don’t want any distractions. Whether it is with that or with trade talks or with this or that. So, for me it is a no comment. I am out there getting ready to do my thing. Like I said before, put no doubt in anyone’s minds about who I am or what I can be for this team and for this organization.” No surprises there, and although Samardzija wouldn’t discuss extension talks specifically, he did touch on a number of topics that are intertwined with those talks. Well, and he kinda sorta did discuss extension stuff further.
- Samardzija said that, if there wasn’t a gap in negotiations on an extension, a deal would have already been reached. I don’t intend this as a back-pat, but Samardzija framed things in pretty much the same manner I have for the past few months: neither side is being unreasonable, they just have their own positions. “Both sides are justified. It is not like anyone is asking for some outlandish concept. I understand where they are coming from and they understand where I am coming from …. Sometimes you’re just a product of the situation and I think that’s where I’m at.” Having made a fair bit of money already in his career, being 29, and being just two years away from free agency (in an exploding market), I can understand Samardzija betting on himself (and willing to sign away free agent years right now only if the Cubs pay near free agent prices (and/or step up their level of competitiveness)). And, being in a rebuilding situation, having certain financial limitations, understanding that two years of arbitration control has value, and recognizing that it’s risky to guarantee free agent dollars two years away from actual free agency, I can understand the Cubs wanting a more limited extension, in terms of price.
- On wanting to stay with the Cubs for emotional/personal reasons, but weighing that against the business and reality of the game: “It is tough, the emotional attachment I have to this organization. A lot of times you just give the benefit of the doubt that just how it works because the way I feel about being here and about how bad I want to be here. So, the more this process goes along the more I realize it is a business and that attachment only goes so far. But like I said before all of it comes down to production. It all comes down to what happens on the field. I know if I do my part and do what I expect of myself and the team expects of me then everything else is clear about what the future holds.”
- Samardzija added a little something that sounds a lot like what Ryan Dempster (with whom I believe Samardzija was close) said in his final half-season with the Cubs: “All I can do is increase my value as much as possible. I think in the end it is going to help the organization no matter what. Either it helps the organization by keeping me here and proving to them I am that guy. Or I increase my value and it helps them get prospects in return.” Even if the two sides aren’t aligned in their beliefs about a reasonable extension, this is one thing the Cubs and Samardzija can definitely come together on: Samardzija performing well out of the gate in 2014 can only mean good things for him (contract) and the Cubs (either performing well and keeping Samardzija, or trading him for a better package).
- Speaking of trading players away for prospects, Samardzija clarified some remarks he made late last year about the Cubs trading away guys like Scott Feldman, which some perceived as critical of the front office. Essentially, Samardzija wasn’t criticizing the front office for making those trades – he understands they’ve got a job to do, and have to look out for the long-term health of the organization – but was instead speaking from his heart about it being a bummer to lose teammates like that.
- Samardzija also correctly hinted that, if the Cubs surprise this year and play well, the entire discussion here changes. Suddenly, the Cubs probably don’t want to trade Samardzija, probably really want him on the team in 2015, and maybe both sides are more ready/willing to come to a compromise on an extension.