Will Braves be favorite to land Samardzija?

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The lobby at the Swan & Dolphin hotel was full of energy -- and rumors -- on Monday night as the winter meetings got underway. It's the only time all year that executives, scouts and media members will mingle with tape recorders off and ties loosened.

Not surprisingly, one topic of conversation was Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija. The list of contending teams not interested in him is growing smaller. Toronto, Atlanta, the New York Yankees, Washington, Arizona and Pittsburgh have all been linked to Samardzija at one time. And there are probably more teams lining up knowing they have two years of control over Samardzija before he becomes a free agent. These teams are in win-now mode.

Two National League observers said Monday that they believe the Braves could emerge as the favorite, either during this offseason or closer to the July trade deadline. The Braves potentially match up well as a trade partner because their top prospects come from their pitching ranks, although some of that pitching is very young and not major league ready. Additionally, the Braves already have a young staff which used Julio Teheran and Alex Wood in the rotation in 2013. A veteran like Samardzija would help. It remains to be seen if the Braves' package is enough for a Cubs front office more interested in quality than quantity to pull the trigger on a deal.

The Samardzija story could take a new turn as his agent, Mark Rodgers, arrives in Orlando on Tuesday for a 36-hour stay. There's no "summit" meeting scheduled between the Cubs and Rodgers, although the sides will undoubtedly talk. Trading Samardzija is still much more likely than extending his stay in Chicago via a new contract. It's still a matter of when and to whom, not if.

While the Cubs try to figure out what to do with Samardzija, they're also waiting to see if Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka will be made available this offseason. General manager Jed Hoyer was asked Monday if the Cubs could only spend on one of the two players.

"They're not attached," Hoyer said. "It's not an either/or type thing. ... What people are speculating about isn't based on any kind of facts. There are very few people who know exactly what we have the resources to do. We'll keep that internal."

Meetings changing: Hoyer lamented the fact that the winter meetings have become less and less about face-to-face meetings between teams. With communication just a touch away on a smartphone, teams don't need the long sitdowns as in previous years or decades. The week before the meetings easily saw more flurry of activity than there likely will be this week.

"When it comes to deal-making and contact, both at the GM meetings and winter meetings, they lack a little bit of what they did in the past because we're on the phone and text," Hoyer said. "You know so much more on the Internet and Twitter. We comment all the time. It used to be you'd sort of have team road trips (in the hotel) to other teams. You have three to four people go to another team and talk a half an hour and 45 minutes."

Big year for Barney: Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney is coming off a season in which he hit .208. There are several infield prospects who could push him in 2014, making it a big year for the veteran.

"It's a big year for him no matter what," Hoyer said. "It doesn't have to do with competition among young players. I think he simply wants to bounce back and get back to where he was."

Barney hit .276 in 2011 and .254 in 2012 while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. Hoyer says the Cubs' plan is for him is to be the starter, but his numbers need to improve.

"With him, mechanically and approach-wise, he got caught in between some things last year," Hoyer said. "He brings aspects [defense] to our club that are pretty much impossible to find."