CHICAGO | Pay him or trade him.
It’s very simple with Jeff Samardzija. Either he’s part of the Cubs future contractually by early this season, or part of some other team’s — likely a contender — present.
The Cubs are doing a disservice if they play with his mind and dither over whether locking him up long-term or getting value via young players in return for a prime arm. They must do one or the other without the issue lingering all the way to the July 31 trade deadline — and playing with The Shark’s very active mind.
“You’re always looking at security as an athlete,” Valparaiso native Samardzija said, “but I’m all about the situation. You want to be in a good situation, happy where you’re at and happy for the future.
“Obviously we have some things we need to address and go from there. I don’t really worry about myself. I go out and do my job and those things usually take care of themselves.”
Having put a ton of trust in Samardzija as a rotation mainstay, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer owe it to their pitcher to return his loyalty and hard work, desiring a career-long stay with the Cubs.
His present and future jumped to front and center during the Cubs Convention over the weekend. The two parties are no closer in forging a long-term deal that Samardzija initially rejected in 2013. Samardzija's agent Mark Rodgers has filed a $6.2 million salary figure for arbitration, $1.8 million more than the Cubs’ filed numbers.
Kerry Wood’s Winter Warm-up charity event at Navy Pier late Friday night, which was timed to being after the convention opening ceremonies, might have been a good time to worm one’s way into discovering the Cubs brass’ true feelings about The Shark.
Epstein, Hoyer and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts were in relax mode, chatting with colleagues, fans and former Cubs like Mark Prior without their usual handlers hovering a few feet away. Under the circumstances, the serious nature of bringing up a contract issue did not seem appropriate.
Samardzija talked with his bosses at the event, also in casual mode. Energetic offseason workouts enabled Samardzija to make the Cubs rotation in 2012 after a few seasons of often-spotty pitching, and he’s not changing now.
“You stick to your guns,” he said. “You go with what works. Obviously that’s hard work, your routine what you usually have in the offseason. Nothing’s changed. Different (contract) talks, this and that. It’s rumors.”
If his 2014 contract ends in front of the arbitrator, the Cubs no doubt will point to Samardzija’s puzzling performance dips in the second half as a means to win the case. He knows he’s still an unfinished product. The remedy is a priority with spring training a month away.
“It all comes down to start-to-start,” he said. “It’s about adjusting and fixing things when they go wrong. When they are going good, continue the momentum and build from them. You can never be too content with where you’re at.
“Obviously for me is keeping my walks down and limiting the damage in big innings will be important next season.”
That task is challenging enough without the distraction of an open-ended financial future or the possibility of a mid-season trade. It’s time for Epstein and Hoyer to decide Samardzija’s status once and for all.