Giants' Jeff Samardzija talked reunion with Cubs, lands with contender

MESA, Ariz. -- San Francisco Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija says he and his former team, the Chicago Cubs, weren’t really close to a reunion this offseason. So ultimately he signed a five-year, $90-million contract to return to the Bay Area, where he pitched for Oakland in 2014. He and Cubs president Theo Epstein met in Chicago, but the Cubs went in a different direction.

“We were in talks,” Samardzija said after facing his former team on Saturday in a spring game. “From where we were at, it takes a lot more to get a deal done. I think Theo [Epstein] had an idea of what they wanted and what they were looking for this year.”

In other words, the Cubs were looking to spend on hitting, especially when they saw where the pitching market was going. They settled on a smaller deal with John Lackey, who faced Samardzija on Saturday, with Samardzija and the Giants winning 5-2.

“Going through what I went through here, I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t in that situation again,” Samardzija said of the Cubs' rebuilding years. “There’s nothing wrong. They did what they had to do.”

But at the time, Samardzija was outspoken about the Cubs giving up on the season before it was even half over. The front office made trades in early July in back-to-back years with an eye on the future. Samardzija was part of one of those deals, going to Oakland for a group of players that included Addison Russell, who hit a home run off the righty on Saturday. It’s hard to blame Samardzija about how he felt back then; he wanted to compete.

“You want all the marbles out there on the table and let it all hang out and see what happens, and when you don’t do that, it’s tough to live with sometimes,” Samardzija said.

He understood the plan, but that doesn’t mean he had to like it. He’s not surprised the Cubs came together last season, but he made sure to credit the additions -- especially Miguel Montero -- and not just the young players.

“It was a risky plan, counting on the draft and Cuban guys and things like that,” Samardzija said. “And don’t forget about the guys they added, too. … Having a guy behind the plate is so key. I can’t stress to you enough how important it is to have a veteran guy back there.”

Samardzija has one of the best behind the plate now in Buster Posey, and he’s looking forward to playing the Cubs. But he doesn’t see much of a rivalry between the teams -- at least not yet.

“It’ll be six big games,” he said. “We know they’re a good team, but we have our division to worry about. They have their division to worry about.”

Samardzija is never one to mince words. He doesn’t know what was going on at the plate in Thursday’s game, when Jason Heyward looked out to Dexter Fowler at second base after striking out against Madison Bumgarner. The Giants lefty took offense at the time, believing Fowler was stealing signs and relaying them to Heyward.

“Talking to the guy on second base after you get out is going to bring a lot of things upon yourself,” Samardzija said, smiling.

Samardzija didn’t face many of his ex-teammates Saturday, but he’s still close with several Cubs. He was asked if Anthony Rizzo “recruited” him this past winter for a return to the team that drafted him.

“The last thing you want to do is waste any days in December talking to Rizzo,” Samardzija said sarcastically. “You have to space that time out.”

One player in the lineup on Saturday was Russell, whose impressive spring continued with his third home run, a line drive out to left field. Samardzija took it in stride.

“You hope 20 years from now they’re talking about, ‘Hey, you got traded for a guy that’s pretty good,’ instead of, ‘That didn’t work out,’” Samardzija said with a laugh.

Last year, the Cubs' outlook changed with a four-game sweep of the Giants at Wrigley Field in early August. Even more could be at stake this year, as both teams have World Series aspirations. Both teams know they’re good and should be in contention until the end.

“Anytime you’re a defending [playoff] team you have the bull's-eye on your back in any sport,” Samardzija said of the Cubs. “When you’re on top, teams are gunning for you.”