BY MEGHAN MONTEMURRO
MESA, Ariz. – Jeff Samardzija’s laid-back personality extends beyond the baseball field, where he’s quickly becoming one of the Cubs’ core pieces to build around.
Samardzija’s breakout 2012 season could have been used as a springboard to a new, long-term deal. But ahead of the pitchers and catchers’ first official spring training workout, Samardzija, who signed a 1-year deal worth $2.64 million to avoid arbitration, wasn’t concerned about reaching a new deal with the Cubs.
He was all smiles discussing his contract situation even though Samardzija said the Cubs haven’t discussed a new contract in months. He reportedly turned down a 5-year deal during the offseason. For both sides, waiting it out to see how Samardzija handles more innings after a career-high innings pitched appears to be the best strategy.
“We were talking and we both have the same interests in mind,” Samardzija said. “We both want me to be here and part of this team for a long time. When we feel we’re on the same page with that, we’ll get it done. But like I said, that was offseason talk. That’s what happened at the end of the year. It’s early right now. I still haven’t proven myself to where I want to be as a player.”
Samardzija’s first season as a starting pitcher had its rough moments, notably two June starts when he yielded eight and nine runs, respectively. But the 28-year-old right-hander posted a 3.81 ERA in 28 starts while striking out 180 batters in 174 2/3 innings. The Cubs took the necessary precautions in shutting him down early, though he finished strong, compiling a 2.98 ERA during his last eight starts.
“I never understood how people aren’t driven to do well in this game or any professional sport,” Samardzija said. “The concept just doesn’t make any sense to me. There’s just too much upside to winning, and winning in Chicago, and having fun, and I want that. I’m going to stay hungry my whole career. I like to think that’s a big reason why I’m where I am today is because of that mentality.”
Despite a better than expected first go at starting, he’s not in any rush to sign a long-term deal. Samardzija has been reassured that the Cubs are willing to invest in the future by signing shortstop Starlin Castro to a 7-year extension last season and inked frontline starter Edwin Jackson to a 4-year, $54 million contract during the offseason.
However, Samardzija wants to prove he’s capable of being a top-tier starter and bring consistency to the mound.
“It doesn’t make much sense to negotiate something out or this or that when I don’t even have a full season [starting] under my belt,” Samardzija said. “Now we’re just talking potential. For me, I want to know where I stand as a whole from beginning to end, to start to finish. [If I do that] then I can start comparing to other guys.”