Cubs

Samardzija believes hes in right place at right time

456282.jpg

Samardzija believes hes in right place at right time

Wednesday, April 27, 2011Posted: 5:05 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs understandably want to promote their homegrown players with billboards and bobblehead dolls.

Jeff Samardzija is no longer viewed through that lens, but he never really got caught up in all the hype anyway. Hes a dude who likes listening to Pink Floyd. He just happens to be freakishly athletic.

Samardzija is still only 26 years old, but everyone forgets that because hes been a name for so long, the built-in celebrity from being an All-American at Notre Dame.

He is only 10 months older than Darwin Barney, and just eight months older than Tyler Colvin. They were all born in 1985, but only one is perceived as being in a make-or-break year, the final guaranteed season of a 10 million contract.

Samardzija gets tired of football questions that undercut his commitment to the Cubs, but recognizes that its taken time to find his identity as a pitcher.

If you look at it, Im almost kind of younger than they are, Samardzija said. Baseball (had) always just kind of been what I did with my extra time. So to be here for the past four years going on my fifth year of only baseball Im really starting to see all that work Ive been doing paying off.

All these adjustments we made in my mechanics and all the pitches weve changedI feel like Ive tried everything and now Ive kind of came out the (other) side with what I know works for me. I just feel real good right now.

Samardzijas out of minor-league options, and that was mentioned every time someone wrote a story about how the Cubs would construct their Opening Day roster.

But the Cubs arent just carrying Samardzija, whos thrown nine consecutive scoreless innings to slice his ERA from 7.50 to 3.14. Hes developed a real feel for his slider and there were never any doubts about his velocity.

Hes got major-league stuff just command it, manager Mike Quade said. Hes doing that right now. Hes all over the glove on a regular basis and hes down in the zone.

Baseball America projected Samardzija as the 20th-best overall prospect in the 2006 draft, though he fell to fifth round amid concerns that he was headed to the NFL.

General manager Jim Hendry listened to his good friend Paul Mainieri then the Notre Dame baseball coach, now at Louisiana State and the Cubs made it an easy financial decision.

He played football in front of 90,000 people on national television, Mainieri recalled last year. (Nothings) going to scare (him). He has the athletic ability. Hes got the arm strength. Hes got the It Factor. Hes got the unwavering confidence. Hes got everything that you need except he just needed to develop his repertoire of pitches.

Thats been a process, but Samardzijas potential and intangibles were apparent then, and shouldnt be completely dismissed now.

You wondered how the Cubs could trust Samardzija after he walked four batters in one inning on April 9, running his total to eight through his first three appearances.

The Cubs cant run Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol out there every time they have a lead or its a close game. Samardzija responded by winning two during this just-completed homestand, and hes notched 16 strikeouts in 14.1 innings.

Ive just been trying to take a pretty consistent approach, Samardzija said. My whole career Ive kind of been battling with getting caught up with every pitch and every outcome. (But) you (have to) take the same mentality with every pitch.

Samardzija did it in the heat of the 2008 pennant race, posting a 2.28 ERA in 27.2 innings. But he says that if you compare the film from then and now, hes a totally different pitcher.

Thats just part of growing as a baseball player, Samardzija said. When I first got called up, I was just an athlete throwing what I thought I could throw. Now I really feel like Im starting to pitch and approach hitters a different way. Its just about being comfortable up there and (having) confidence.

Samardzija was just getting by on adrenaline and pure athleticism that summer and getting profiled by Sports Illustrated. But this was never a publicity stunt for him. It doesnt matter what the Cubs do with their club option for 2012. Hell keep evolving.

To have a long big-league career youve got to make adjustments, Samardzija said. You always got to stay a step ahead of the curve.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

1012_manny_machado.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

[MORE: The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason]

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess, as we discussed on the latest CubsTalk Podcast.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.