Samardzija out to prove he's an ace

Saying he still believes the prime of his career is in front of him, Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija thinks he needs to prove he’s a No.1 pitcher before signing a long-term deal with the team.

“This year I need to prove that I can take that next step and without a doubt I’m that guy that they want here pitching in Game 1, Game 3 and Game 7 of the World Series,” Samardzija said Thursday on the "Carmen and Jurko Show" on ESPN 1000.

Samardzija signed a one-year contract last month and is set to become a free agent after the 2015 season. It’s believed the Cubs would never let him get to that point, putting him squarely on the block if a long-term deal can’t be reached by the major league trade deadline.

“I need to put my mark on exactly that, being the go-to guy and understanding ‘This is a dude we must have around this locker room for a long time,’” Samardzija said.

Reading between the lines, it sounds as if Samardzija has been told, or understands, that right now the Cubs don’t view him as an ace and won’t pay him like one. Can he prove it in the three months between April and July 31 trade deadline?

“I don’t think I’m in the prime years of my career yet,” Samardzija said. “I feel like I’m improving every year and I still have a lot to improve on, which is exciting for me.”

Samardzija went 8-13 last season with a 4.34 ERA, reaching 200 innings-pitched for the first time in his career. But his second half was dismal -- he had an ERA over 5.00 in each of the final three months. It coincided with the Cubs falling well out of the race.

Sources familiar with the situation believe Samardzija won’t sign a deal any time after the 2014 season. Being that close to free agency, he’ll test the open market.

So the next three months are critical. Either the Cubs will see an ace in Samardzija and pay him accordingly or they’ll trade him. The chances of Samardzija lowering his demands are slim as his confidence in himself has him believing -- probably correctly -- he’ll get a big contract on the open market after the 2015 season.