By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) Although the Jeff Samardzija “sign or trade” story continues to be the hot-button topic in Chicago baseball circles, neither Cubs president Theo Epstein nor manager Rick Renteria seem concerned it will impact the psyche of the team.
Samardzia has been the center of attention since reportedly turning down an offer to sign a five-year extension earlier this week.
Multiple teams — including the Blue Jays, Orioles and Giants — have serious interest in the 29-year-old pitcher, who can become a free agent in November of 2015. Samardzija has stated on numerous occasions that he wants to stay with the Cubs but doesn’t want to be distracted with contract talks during the season.
Epstein believes that players on his club have done a nice job of keeping focused on games and individual improvement.
“We just try to keep our players focused on the field,” he said. “We see them going out and preparing for that day’s game. That is where we want their focus to be . The realities of the game this time of year more takes place on the Internet and newspapers than it does in reality. If and when moves do come, we address them with the players at that time. There is no sense in preparing players for (trade that) may happen down the line. This is part of the game, players come in and players go out. Teams change through the course of the season. The great ones seem to be able to focus on things that matter.”
Samardzija falls into the the point presented by Epstein. Despite the contract debate and limited run support in the majority of his starts, Samardzija continues to have quality outings every five days. His 2.60 ERA is ninth best in the National League
“That is part of the game,” Epstein said of trade rumors. “Good teams find a way to play well and not get distracted. We will do everything we can, including not talking about it, to help eliminate the distractions. If we play well, the focus will be on the field where it should be.”
In his first year as manager of the Cubs, Renteria downplayed any issues in his clubhouse due to the Samardzija discussions.
“When it comes up, it is very subtle between players,” said Renteria, who saw Jake Peavy in the center of trade discussions year after year in San Diego. “Right now we don’t think about it because all these guys are Cubs.”