Cubs, Samardzija want deal, but remain far apart in talks
Local hero Jeff Samardzija hasn't jumped at the Cubs' first two attempts to lock him up to a five-year deal despite loving life as a Cub, as is said to have great faith in himself.
MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs' new regime is all about acquiring and holding onto big assets that can one day make them a powerhouse organization. Which is why they've made two runs at locking up opening-day starter Jeff Samardzija -- though for now there's a sizable enough gap that talks appear to be on hold.
Word is, the Cubs' offer was "well above" the nearly $30 million, five-year deal the Rangers gave Derek Holland last spring, though with Samardzija a year closer to free agency (he has three years to go) and other factors, he's believe to be seeking something in an entirely different ballpark.
One other factor includes the fact that Samardjzija, who had extra leverage as a Notre Dame football star with a potential NFL career looming, banked a huge $10.25 million signing bonus early (money well spent, it turns out). The other big factor, Cubs people suggest, is that Samardzija, who'll make $2.64 million this year, his first of arbitration eligibility, has an unsinkable belief in himself.
Although there's a large difference of opinion for now, both sides have ample reason to try to make it work at some point, even if that isn't anytime soon.
"He really wants to be here, and we really want to keep him, so I'm not worried about it," Cubs president Theo Epstein said this spring.
Epstein isn't kidding about Samardzija wanting to remain a Cub. In fact, Samardzija, a native of northwest Indiana (Valparaiso, ostensibly a Chicago exurb) doesn't hide his love for the Cubs, or for Cubs bosses. Well beyond saying there's "no bad blood," he speaks glowingly of his bosses, the folks who gave him a chance to move from the bullpen into the rotation, setting in motion this big-bucks negotiation.
"It's nice to work for people who want me here. I want to show they are not wrong," Samardzija said earlier this spring. "A lot of it is up to me and how I perform on the field."
Samardzija's belief in himself weighs heavily in these talks. But so might being a Cub. That organization can hold a special allure, especially for someone from Chicago or nearby.
"A big reason why I chose to play baseball is the Cubs drafted me, and I got to stay in what I call my hometown," Samardzija said. "I remember growing up going to games in Chicago as a kid, and to be playing for the Cubs now is a dream come true."
The Cubs have to love having such a great representative of the area in the fold for at least three more years. But more importantly, they want to retain their real assets (when they arrived they had shortstop Starlin Castro, who they've locked up, and shortstop prospect Javier Baez, and they've added first-baseman Anthony Rizzo, outfield prospects Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, pitcher Arodys Vizcaino plus Samardzija the starter). The Cubs' one obvious organization weakness is a paucity of pitching, which plays in Samardzija's favor.
Cubs people actually love that he possesses so much faith in himself (though maybe they'd like to see it let up, if just a bit, in contract talks). He has the type of confidence needed to become a No. 1 starter, and he showed the stuff to become one, too, in his first season starting; he went 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA and allowed only 157 hits and 56 walks while striking out 180 batters last year.
He was unhappy to be shut down late last year as the organization played it cautiously, though there wasn't the same fanfare Washington saw with Stephen Strasburg since the Cubs were already out of contention. Had the Cubs been in the running down the stretch and still wanted to shut him down, Samardzija said "they would have had to cut my arm off."
If he can build on last year -- say, win 15-16 games and throw 220 innings -- as he suspects he will, Samardzija may hit the jackpot. But for now, both sides in these talks will wait for the right opportunity to bridge their big gap.