Theo still hopeful for Samardzija deal

MESA, Ariz. -- There hasn't been a breakthrough in long-term contract talks between the Chicago Cubs and pitcher Jeff Samardzija's camp, but team president Theo Epstein remains hopeful for a deal.

"Sometimes there is going to be a natural gap where a player values himself for what he can do and the team has to factor in a little bit more what he has done," Epstein said Tuesday. "It doesn't mean we're tremendously far apart, but if you are apart you kind of table it for another day and we'll see what happens."

Samardzija narrowly avoided salary arbitration this year when he signed for one season at $5.345 million. He would rather the Cubs rip that contract up and sign him to free agent-type money. There are two things that can change the dynamic of the negotiation: how Samardzija pitches and how the team is doing in the standings. The pitcher's performance is more likely to make a difference in the near future.

"All I can do is increase my value as much as possible," Samardzija said last week. "That helps the organization no matter what."

The Cubs have until the July 31 trade deadline to decide what to do with Samardzija. There's little chance they could sign him after this season, just one year away from free agency. At that point it's believed he would wait to test the open market after 2015.

"He's extremely competitive, that plays a role in negotiations," Epstein said.

The Cubs are basing their thoughts on what they've seen of Samardzija not what they might see in the future. What they saw last year was a pitcher who blew up as the Cubs fell out of the race. Samardzija's ERA was over 5.00 for each of the final three months after flashing greatness in April and May.

When asked what he would like Samardzija to improve on, Epstein said: "Maintaining his calm and composure when things start to escalate during the course of the game so he can relax and execute a pitch."

If Samardzija takes the next step, the Cubs might ante up. If Samardzija simply believes he can take the next step but doesn't prove it -- even for a losing team -- then he's as good as gone. The gap simply remains until Samardzija proves differently, if he can.

"If there wasn't a gap there I would have already signed," Samardzija said Friday.