A possible contract extension between the Chicago Cubs and ace Jeff Samardzija this offseason "looks like a long shot at this point", writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Sources tell Wittenmyer that there is currently a large gap in asking prices between the two sides, with each expressing little confidence that a deal will be completed this winter.
Samardzija, a 28-year-old former Notre Dame football star (he was twice nominated for the Fred Biletnikoff Award in honor of college football's best wide receiver), was selected by the Cubs in the 5th round of the 2006 draft, and reached the majors just two years later in 2008. Since his big league debut, he has been a key member of the Cubs' pitching staff, both in the rotation and the bullpen.
During the first 4 years of his career, Samardzija made 123 relief appearances versus just 5 starts. He was an outstanding set-up man for the Cubs in 2008 and 2011, but sandwiched in between those two years were a pair of particularly dreadful seasons in which he posted ERAs of 7.53 and 8.38 respectively.
In 2012, Samardzija was converted to the rotation where he has flourished as one of the brighter young arms in the National League. After posting a 3.81 ERA with 180 strikeouts in 174.2 innings last season, Samardzija topped the 200 inning mark in 2013, striking out 214 batters in 213.2 innings. Despite his ERA inflating to 4.34, Samardzija still posted a solid FIP of 3.77, and an even better xFIP of 3.45, while also accruing a 3.29 BB/9 rate and striking out over a batter per innings. In 558 major league innings, Samardzija has a 4.19 ERA and has struck out 536 batters.
Samardzija figures to headline the Cubs' rotation in 2014, but it is unknown how long that will last as the club will likely look to trade the right-hander before he reaches free agency following the 2015 season. If traded sometime before next summer's trade deadline, the Cubs could fetch a hefty return for Samardzija. If extension talks break down, expect the Cubs to put Samardzija on the block sometime this winter.