By Bruce Levine-
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) — Fireworks went off, a a Cactus League record 14,486 fans showed up at Cubs Park and there were scouts galore in the stands — it was all a part of Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija’s first start Thursday in spring training.
The 29-year-old right-hander has been the center of conversation since last fall. That’s when the Cubs started to offer different variations of five- and six-year contracts to him, but he still doesn’t have a long-term deal in place.
“It was exciting out there,” Samardzija said Thursday after working two shutout innings against the Diamondbacks and allowing two hits and a walk while striking out two . “It was good to face these guys. I have faced them a lot, they always make me work. I worked out of that first-inning jam and got a double play. That was everything I wanted to do.”
An impasse on Samardzija’s contract talks has many other major league clubs sending their top scouts to watch his starts this spring. Former Cubs general manager Ed Lynch is the Blue Jays top scout in Arizona watching the Cubs, and sources say that Toronto has been the most aggressive team in pursuit of Samardzija. Other interested clubs include Seattle, Arizona and Washington, and all will be watching the Samardzija negotiations with keen interest.
Samardzija is past worrying about his situation. He appeared to enjoy the fact that other teams are watching him with a purpose.
“If anything, it puts a chip on your shoulder and go out and prove yourself even more,” he said. “That is the thing about this game, you are constantly having to go out and prove yourself. It doesn’t matter what your contract situation is, the only thing that matters is proving yourself that day.”
Amassing 200 innings and 200-plus strikeouts were important numbers in 2013 for Samardzija, who wasn’t held back on innings pitched for the first time in his career. Samardjzija expects to be a Cub for at least the start of the season despite the trade rumors that will continue to follow him around.
“I would be surprised (to be moved),” he said. “We are going head over heals toward the season. We want to win, we want to win here and we want to win now.”
The question still remains if Samardzija will be a part of a winning Cubs’ future.
Bruce Levine is a baseball reporter/analyst for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.