David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
CHICAGO - Jeff Samardzija spent plenty of time before Tuesday night's game catching up with Larry Rothschild, his former pitching coach with the Cubs. The two talked for a while a few feet away from the Yankees' dugout, a place where Samardzija wouldn't mind joining Rothschild between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Of course, it's not up to Samardzija. He won't be a free agent until after the 2015 season. But the Cubs, who have made rebuilding a way of life on the North Side, are once again the worst team in baseball (15-27) -- and that means they'll have some decisions to make in the coming weeks.
With pitching at a premium, and a team like the Yankees on the prowl, Samardzija should fetch a hefty return. His price tag is likely to go higher, too, after Tuesday's revelation that Cliff Lee was sent for an MRI on his sore left elbow. Other than David Price, who may be shopped by the Rays, Samardzija is expected to be the most coveted pitcher in trade discussions -- and the front office hasn't given him assurances that he'll be wearing a Cubs uniform come August.
"There really hasn't been any communication, either way, about that," Samardzija said Tuesday. "I've just been going out and doing my job and I'm sure they've been busy with the draft and things like that. But no communication really whatsoever."
Samardzija didn't seem all that upset by the silence. Probably because leaving the Cubs might be the best thing that ever happened to him. Who would want to stay with a team that is perpetually on a road to nowhere? Samardzija is having a career year, with a 1.62 ERA through nine starts, and the effort has been mostly wasted as the Cubs are 1-8 with him on the mound.
That's one more victory than Samardzija, who hasn't won since Aug. 24 of last season. He's 0-6 over those 15 starts, despite a 3.20 ERA, and will be looking to snap that winless streak in Wednesday's audition for the Yankees. As we all know, the win-loss record is not an accurate gauge of a pitcher's performance -- especially when that pitcher belongs to the Cubs' staff.
"Just because he hasn't had a victory," Chicago manager Rick Renteria said, "doesn't mean he hasn't pitched victoriously. I think if anybody's shown resiliency, it's been Jeff."
Samardzija is 19-33 with a 3.97 ERA for his career as a starter. The Cubs have finished no higher than fifth since 2010 and never within 16 games of first place. The past two seasons, the Cubs were more than 30 games out. And it's not going to be much different this year.
"You definitely want to be playing meaningful games -- period," Samardzija said. "When you're trying to hold your spot in first place, or to get a step closer to first place, that's what it's all about. That's where I want to be -- and I want to be there as soon as possible."
Notice how Samardzija didn't say World Series. When you've played for the Cubs this long, the goals tend to be a bit more modest. But if Samardzija is dealt to the Yankees, well, that changes things. With CC Sabathia out of the rotation until at least July -- and no guarantee to return at all -- the Yankees could soon be desperate.
Speaking Tuesday at a charity golf outing, Brian Cashman said there wasn't much he could do about the Yankees' rotation issues now, other than plug the gaps with in-house candidates.
"I can't pull something that's not available," Cashman said. "Nothing has presented itself so far."
If the Cubs do end up putting Samardzija on the block, who better for Theo Epstein to call than Cashman -- if he wants to make life in the AL East a bit more uncomfortable for his former club, that is. As for Samardzija, he didn't sound hung up on staying in the Midwest, despite his Notre Dame roots and Wrigley the only home he has known. "I'm not entrenched here by any means," Samardzija said. "It's almost like a kid leaving for the first time -- that feeling of being a little uneasy. I wouldn't really know what to expect not being here."
More wins, that's for sure.