2/14/2014 5:44 P.M. ET
Samardzija on contract talks: No comment
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- Jeff Samardzija does not want to discuss a possible long-term contract with the Cubs or his name being mentioned in trade rumors.
"We're not really going to talk about that," Samardzija said Friday. "We're worried about the season and getting ready to compete and win some ballgames. We don't want any distractions, whether it's with [contract talk] or with trade talks or this or that. For me, it's a no comment.
"Like I've said before, [I want to] put no doubt in anyone's minds about who I am and what I can be for this organization."
This is Samardzija's third season as a full-time starter, and his name has been mentioned in trade rumors because of the Cubs' trend the last two seasons under president of baseball operations Theo Epstein to deal players for prospects. Samardzija avoided arbitration this year by agreeing to a one-year, $5.345 million contract. He will be a free agent after the 2015 season.
"The last resort is to go to a hearing," Samardzija said of the talks. "I felt like from the beginning, both sides were in agreement that we were pretty close."
The right-hander is coming off a season in which he totaled 200 innings and 200 strikeouts for the first time. He finished 8-13 with a 4.34 ERA in a career-high 33 starts. His goal this year? To improve his pitch efficiency and reduce the total walks.
One of the ways to do that is eliminate any outside distractions. Whether he is traded or not, Samardzija, 29, is doing his best to stay focused on baseball.
"All I can do is increase my value as much as possible, and I think in the end it's going to help the organization no matter what," he said. "It either helps the organization by keeping me here and proving that I'm that guy, or I increase my value and help them get prospects in return."
Does he think he will be with the Cubs at the end of the 2014 season?
"It comes down to the team," he said. "It comes down to where we're at as a team. If me, [Travis Wood], [Edwin] Jackson, [Jason] Hammel, [Carlos] Villanueva, [Jake] Arrieta, so on and so forth do their job and show that we're pretty close to where we need to be, especially as a pitching staff, which is what we can control as pitchers, a lot of times that changes the plan. [They'll say] this is an important core group of guys, and we can't break this up."
Arrieta unlikely to be ready by Opening Day
MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta, projected as the No. 4 starter, says he has no pain or discomfort in his right shoulder, but he is unlikely to be ready by Opening Day.
Arrieta was taking a cautious approach this spring. When he will be ready has yet to be determined. The right-hander, acquired from the Orioles last July, felt some discomfort in his shoulder a few weeks ago.
"I was stretched out pretty good, throwing long toss for three weeks," Arrieta said Friday about when he first felt the pain. "It could've been doing a little too much. I tend to get a little eager. I try to push the envelope a little early. That's what I'm banking on is [the problem was] trying to get going too soon. Now that I'm backed off and able to take it slower, step by step now, moving the process a little slower."
Arrieta has been able to play catch in Arizona for a few weeks and has no pain.
"It'll be a slower progression, but it'll put me in place to accomplish the goals we set to accomplish," he said. "I just have to be patient at this point in time."
Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio confirmed the conservative approach.
"Jake will let us know how he feels on a day-to-day basis, and if we're able to move forward, we will," Bosio said.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Thursday that the club was not counting on Arrieta to start the season. The good news for the pitcher is that he did not need to have an MRI exam on the shoulder.
"I think we'll have a much better understanding as we progress," Arrieta said. "I think the main thing right now is to be cautious and to make sure I'm around for the long haul rather than try to rush things and progress a little too quickly and maybe have a setback at some point. The structure will be progressive but slow at the start to make sure we don't have any setbacks."
Cubs' new closer Veras excited by opportunity
MESA, Ariz. -- When Jose Veras was looking for a team to sign with, the right-hander says he was not that concerned about being the closer.
"I'm the kind of guy who was just looking to find a job and be somewhere and do my best," said Veras, who signed a free-agent deal with the Cubs on Dec. 27 and will be their closer this season.
"I don't think in my mind that I've got a spot or got a place [on the team]," he said. "I think I'm here and any position, any moment that they need me, give my best, make the team win ballgames, and that's my goal. That's what I worry about. I don't worry about being setup, closer, long reliever; whatever they need from me, I'll be there."
Veras was the Astros' closer at the start of last season before being traded to the Tigers, who used him as a setup pitcher. In 25 games with Detroit, he posted a 3.20 ERA.
Veras did like the idea of joining the Cubs. To him, the team has some special history.
"Being with the Cubs is something you can't explain," Veras said. "A lot of good players passed through here -- Greg Maddux, [Ryne] Sandberg, the second baseman, Sammy Sosa, [Alfonso] Soriano, Aramis Ramirez. It's unbelievable to wear this uniform. For me, it's one of my best steps in baseball, to be with a glory team like this."
Keep in mind, Veras has pitched for the Yankees, the Indians, the Marlins, the Pirates and the Brewers as well as the Astros and the Tigers.
"I see the history; I know how they are," he said of the Cubs. "So far, it's a team that gives a lot of opportunity to people who they trust can do something. That's the best part of baseball, when you find people who trust you can do something."
• Kyuji Fujikawa, coming back from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, played long toss from 135 feet and also threw an estimated 10 times hard from about 60 feet.
• New manager Rick Renteria addressed the pitchers and catchers before Friday's workout, and he acknowledged he would probably say the same thing when the full squad reports next week. He did not write out his speech. "If I speak from the heart and experience, I think the message resonates," Renteria said.
• Top prospects Kyle Hendricks and Eric Jokisch are scheduled to start an intrasquad game Feb. 26.
• How many roster spots are open on the Cubs? "To make predictions this early, it doesn't make any sense for me to do that or even to speculate on spots we're trying to fill," Renteria said. "We want these guys to come in here and perform."
However, Renteria knows how important spring is. He was a non-roster invitee in 1993 and won a roster spot with the Marlins.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.