MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs are no closer to finding common ground on a potential contract extension with pitcher Jeff Samardzija than they were a year ago. In some ways, they’re further apart.
He is considered the club’s top commodity for the July trade market, but could he be dealt before the season starts in five weeks?
Two industry sources said Monday they believe a trade is a strong possibility, although a third source said no such talks are happening.
Cubs manager Rick Renteria did little to quell the notion when, for the second time in a week, he declined to acknowledge the obvious choice when asked about the possibility of Samardzija getting a second consecutive start on Opening Day.
“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.
If that was a reference to injury potential, it was lost in Samardzija’s elephant-in-the-room status with the club — especially with several teams, including Texas and Toronto, still in the hunt for starting pitching and so far reluctant to spend on lingering free agent Ervin Santana.
Samardzija makes $5.345 million this year with two years of club control remaining.
“That’s a terrible thing to do when you name somebody and then all of a sudden it changes,” Renteria explained. “Obviously, we give you a name and then by elimination everybody starts deducing and speculating. And I’ve got a large group of guys that are very talented, and I want to see what they can do, and we’ll determine that as the days move forward and we get closer to [the opener].”
MLB and the players’ union agreed to language in the new rule designed to reduce home-plate collisions, but Cubs catchers have been working on alternatives to blocking the plate in anticipation of the change.
Newly acquired Eli Whiteside, who was the Giants’ backup who replaced the badly injured Buster Posey after a 2011 collision with the Marlins’ Scott Cousins, didn’t sound sure of how necessary the rule change was.
“We’ve already had a lot of questions for Borz,” he said of catching coach Mike Borzello, “and he doesn’t know what to tell us. I’m sure we’ll have a lot of questions for those [officials] when they come in to explain the rule.”
For now, it emphasizes the existing rule prohibiting a catcher from blocking the plate without the ball and adds specific language prohibiting a runner from lowering a shoulder or using hands to intentionally create a collision.
“I don’t like it because the catchers are still going to block the plate,” said Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan, the former Marlin, who was in the on-deck circle when Cousins crashed into Posey. “They’re going to stick their foot out, they’re going to do whatever [it takes].”
Rotation lined up
The Cubs’ rotation to open the spring schedule: Samardzija vs. Diamondbacks on Thursday, Chris Rusin at Angels on Friday, Travis Wood vs. Giants on Saturday afternoon, Edwin Jackson at D-backs on Saturday night and Jason Hammel vs. Royals on Sunday.