MESA, Ariz. — Picture Jeff Samardzija wearing black and orange for a playoff start at Wrigley Field and you get a good idea of what a rivalry with the San Francisco Giants could become.
Madison Bumgarner vs. Jason Heyward already felt like the kind of overreaction/misunderstanding the Cubs could be bringing upon themselves this year.
Joe Maddon unveiled his new “Embrace The Target” T-shirt on Saturday morning, less than 48 hours after Bumgarner and Heyward almost sparked a bench-clearing incident in the middle of a Cactus League game. The Cubs manager posed for pictures with a bull’s-eye literally on his chest.
Even if that’s for charity — and baseball does need so much more personality and the Cubs spent their free-agent money logically in an irrational market — it’s not going to stop other teams and opposing fans from noticing how Camp Maddon is generating all this hype.
Bumgarner — a three-time World Series winner — suspected Dexter Fowler had been tipping pitches to Heyward, who signed the biggest contract in franchise history this winter (eight years and $184 million guaranteed).
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“If you’re talking to your guy on second base after you get out,” Samardzija said, “then that’s going to bring a lot of things upon yourself, regardless of what the rhetoric is, no matter who you’re playing.”
Samardzija didn’t come close to rejoining the Wrigleyville circus, not when the Cubs wanted to do a high-dollar, short-term, prove-it deal that would have allowed him to work with pitching coach Chris Bosio and hit the free-agent market again after a disappointing season with the White Sox.
The Giants didn’t even make the highest offer at five years, $90 million, but Samardzija had bet on himself long enough and wanted to go to a world-class city, a win-now organization and a pitcher-friendly ballpark.
Samardzija returned to Sloan Park on Saturday afternoon and got into a rhythm, going six innings during a 5-2 win and giving up a home run to Addison Russell, the young shortstop the Cubs acquired from the Oakland A’s in that 2014 Fourth of July blockbuster.
“That’s the game we play,” Samardzija said. “We understand where we’re at with service time and where we’re at with contracts and what the organization is looking to do.
“You just hope that 20 years from now, they’re talking about: ‘Hey, they got traded for a guy that’s pretty good.’ Instead of: ‘Well, that didn’t work out.’
“Addison looks like a good dude. He plays hard. And when you (go) to the A’s organization, usually you get some gamers from over there, too.”
Samardzija understood where Theo Epstein was coming from and certainly noticed some of the spending restrictions placed upon the baseball-operations department during the rebuilding years.
“It was a risky plan,” Samardzija said. “But it worked out. Let’s not forget about the guys they added, too. I understand the prospects got a lot of attention. But you add a guy like Jon Lester, who I know personally. Miguel Montero — having a guy (like him) behind the plate is so key. I can’t even stress to you enough how important it is to have a veteran guy back there.
“And then what Bosio has done with some of the pitchers (has) been amazing.”
Samardzija traveled to Chicago and met with Epstein for drinks at a Southport Corridor bar before signing with San Francisco. A reporter asked Samardzija if he had stayed in contact with former teammates like Anthony Rizzo during the free-agent process.
“Yeah, a little bit here and there,” Samardzija said. “But a baseball offseason, man, you don’t really talk to these guys. You’ve seen enough of them throughout the year, heard enough of them throughout the year, the last thing you want to do is waste any days in December talking to Rizzo.”
Samardzija laughed: “I like to take my time. When the season starts, I’ll see him enough and talk to him enough throughout the year. That’s it. You got to space that time out.”
Seeing the Cubs and Giants in October would be great theater. After playing football at Notre Dame, living through the hype in Chicago and listening to all the trade rumors, Samardzija knows all about embracing the target.
“You show up every day and do your job, no matter what the lineup is,” Samardzija said. “Because you know even a team that’s under .500 and not in the mix — if they’re playing the Cubs on WGN — that’s going to be their big game of the month.
“They’re going to come out swinging. That’s just the way it is when you’re up top. Teams are gunning for you.”