The Chicago Cubs could still trade starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija before the season starts, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Samardzija was the subject of trade speculation earlier in the offseason, with the Cubs dangling the right-hander out on the trade market. Much of that talk had quieted down until Tuesday, when Wittenmyer reported that a trade remains a strong possibility. The Cubs and Samardzija have also discussed a potential long-term extension, but the two sides have gained little traction in coming to an agreement.
Samardzija will make $5.35 million in 2014, his second year of arbitration eligibility, and has another year of arbitration before he is set to enter the free-agent market in 2016. With the Cubs still a few years from serious contention, the 29-year-old Samardzija has been a trade candidate all winter long for teams looking to add a mid-rotation starter.
After beginning his career in the Cubs bullpen, Samardzija has settled into his role as a starter quite well, turning in two above-average seasons for the club. Last year, Samardzija finished with a 4.34 ERA and nearly three times as many strikeouts as walks in his second full season as a big league starting pitcher. The 29-year-old posted a 3.81 ERA, including 180 strikeouts in 174.2 innings pitched, during his first campaign as a starter in 2012.
Asked about whether Samardzija would get the nod as the Cubs' Opening Day starter this season, manager Rick Renteria was noncommittal, providing further fuel for speculation.
"So many things can happen over the course of the spring that I'm not going to lock myself into trying to divulge something that I can't really determine will be in the end," Renteria said on Tuesday. "That's a terrible thing to do when you name somebody and then all of the sudden it changes."
The Rangers and Blue Jays are both potential candidates to add starting pitching before the season starts, but neither has been linked to Samardzija in recent weeks. As of now, it's unknown which team might pursue a deal for the right-hander, though according to Wittenmyer's sources, the Cubs haven't ruled out trading Samardzija at this point.
Even if Samardzija opens the season with the Cubs, he could certainly be traded before July's trade deadline much like Matt Garza was in 2013. With the Cubs still looking to add young talent for the future, Samardzija will no doubt continue to be a topic of trade speculation.