One year or five, struggle to ink Samardzija

CHICAGO – As the calendar turns to February and settlements near in arbitration cases, the Chicago Cubs and pitcher Jeff Samardzija continue to “work through their differences” as they try to reach an agreement before going to a hearing, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

Those differences have been evident much longer than since the Cubs submitted a $4.4 million request for Samardzija’s 2014 salary, and Samardzija’s camp countered with a $6.2 million figure earlier this month.

That gulf in salary is indicative of the bigger issues between the sides, who are not only stalled on a one-year deal but also have made little progress on a longer-term deal over the past 12 months. It won’t be a shock if Samardzija becomes the first Cubs player to actually go to an arbitration hearing since Theo Epstein took over as the team president in 2011.

It has become evident the Cubs simply don’t value Samardzija the same way the right-hander thinks they should. It’s the reason he’s the subject of constant trade rumors and makes him more likely to be playing elsewhere come Aug. 1, if not sooner.

Samardzija made $2.64 million last season, and whether an arbitrator rules for or against him -- or if the sides settle before a hearing -- it’s still a far cry from what Samardzija wants to be paid. If he were a free agent, even with a 4.34 ERA in 2013, he’d be commanding $10 million or more a season.

He wants that kind of money now -- in fact, he wants more than that -- and in exchange he’ll play for a losing team while putting off free agency, which as of now would happen after the 2015 season. The Cubs will skip his arbitration years and pay him a decent salary, but they aren’t going to give him, say, $15 million a year, not now. Unlike the relatively small difference -- just $1.8 million -- in their requests for 2014, the long-term deal could be the difference in tens of millions of dollars. Neither side is budging.

A contract for 2014 could still be had without an arbitration hearing, but the struggle to get there gives a good indication of what the sides have endured for the bigger deal. It simply emphasizes the likelihood that Samardzija will be dealt long before the Cubs become a contender again.