Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein refused to acknowledge rumors that the team and pitcher Jeff Samardzija have renewed talks in an effort to sign the pitcher to a long-term deal before the July 31 trading deadline.
“We agreed earlier in the season not to speak about things publicly,” Epstein said Tuesday afternoon on the Waddle and Silvy Show on ESPN 1000. “The bottom line is nothing has changed. We think the world of Jeff. He has a year and a half left on his contract. We would love to find a way to keep him in Chicago for a long time. He’d love to be a Cub for a long time, but it’s a business and things aren’t quite that easy. We’re just not going to get into detail or give a public play-by-play.”
An industry source recently claimed the talks, first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, are “status-quo,” meaning there is still a large gulf between the team and Samardzija, who can become a free agent after the 2015 season. A source close to the situation said Samardzija would “most likely” test free agency if he isn’t signed to a long-term deal by the end of this season, hence the Cubs' urgency to sign or trade him now. The same source indicated the price tag could be higher as Samardzija inches toward free agency. He’s looking for a deal in excess of $100 million.
Samardzija is making $5.345 million this year and is eligible for arbitration for one more season. He’ll turn 30 in January, and Epstein was asked if giving out a long-term deal to a pitcher of that age is against his philosophy.
“The only operating philosophy I have is try to build an organization that is so healthy, that drafts so well and acquires so many great young pitchers and has so much depth that you never have to give a long-term deal,” Epstein responded. “The only problem with that philosophy is its completely unrealistic.”
With pitching injuries on the rise there is concern a long-term deal for an over-30 pitcher isn’t smart. Epstein commended Samardzija’s ability to “stay out of the trainer’s room.”
“If you’re looking at pitchers, who’s a good bet to stay healthy? Jeff checks all the boxes,” Epstein said. “It’s complicated, it’s a business, there are a lot of variables at play.”
Samardzija is 2-6 with a 2.77 ERA this season in 14 starts. He’s the only pitcher in baseball with a sub-3.00 ERA with at least a dozen starts and fewer than three wins. Epstein was asked if he thinks Samardzija even wants to play for the Cubs, who are going through a long rebuilding process.
“I would caution against playing armchair psychologist with any player,” Epstein said.