Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Samardzija Coming or Going?

Vineline Samardzija Cover
This year a common thread in Chicago sports media stories is that Jeff Samardzija will be traded to free up money needed to build the struggling Cubs who seem to be years away from contending.  

Samardzija is 2-6 so far this year, but his 2.77 ERA, his 90 strikeouts, and his 1.206 WHIP puts him squarely in the company of the 10 top pitchers in the National League.  He's getting a lot of work, approaching 100 innings pitched, but losing games with a very poor Cubs team.  It's ironic of course that the Cubs originally paid Samardzija for his potential in his first few seasons even though he struggled mightily and the word on "the street" seems to be saying that he will be traded just as he is coming into his own.  

In his early years with the Cubs, many fans wondered if Samardzija chose the wrong sport.  After all, he was a terrific Notre Dame football player. When Samardzija played, he was always the most competitive guy on the field. He looked like he had great career potential in football. As a big 6'5" 215 lbs. receiver, he broke a number of records for the Fighting Irish football team. Samardzija played his last two years during Charlie Weis's ND coaching tenure. As a Junior in 2005, Samardzija had 77 receptions for 1,249 yards and 15 touchdowns. He averaged 16.2 yards per catch. Samardzija set ND records for receiving yardage and touchdown receptions. He was named by the NCAA as a consensus football All-American for 2005. In 2006, as a senior he caught 78 passes for 1,017 yards and 13 touchdowns. He averaged 13 yards per catch. Once again, he was named by the NCAA as a consensus football All-American. 

Samardzija played baseball at ND as well. He was an excellent pitcher with the Irish baseball team. In baseball, Samardzija saw plenty of playing time during his college days. He had a 3.82 ERA and he pitched to a  21-6 career record.  Samardzija chose baseball over football. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs coming out of college and received a generous contract. Known for his intense play in college, he struggled some in Major League Baseball for his first few years. Some thought he just needed to settle down and relax. Others thought he needed to develop more pitches and gain seasoning. Some pundits wrote off Samardzija's baseball career after a few years. Things changed for the better during the 2011 season when Samardzija as a reliever improved to post an 8-4 record with an ERA of 2.97. In  2012 he was 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA on the fifth place Cubs.  In 2013, he was 8-13, with a 4.34 ERA on the fifth place Cubs.  He looks very strong this year except in the win-loss record.  

Athletes like Samardzija who have talent in both football and baseball sometimes chose baseball as a safer bet--safer in terms of a sport that might offer a longer career. Pitching however, offers a set of unique physical challenges that pose perhaps more risks. 

The latest news on Samardzija is that the Cubs are discussing a multiyear deal with him. He's set to be a free agent after the 2015 season. There is a lot for the pitcher to consider.  Chicago is a beautiful place to play ball and if the current Cubs' management build a winner, Samardzija will be part of something that will sail off the charts of Chicago sports history.  A Cubs World Series Win would be like five Stanley Cups or three Super Bowls.  But the competitive Samardzija likely wants to be part of winner as he approaches the prime of his career.  Can the Cubs make a solid offer and convince Samardzija that he will be part of winning program?  Are the Cubs likely to make a good faith offer or are they doing what teams do when they go to trade a fan favorite--make it look like they want him, but position the offer knowing that he won't take it and move on. 

One thing remains constant in Samardzija's Cubs career, nothing remains certain and nothing seems clear.
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