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Levine: Jeff Samardzija's A Natural Fit For Cubs

By Bruce Levine--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- After a dinner meeting with Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein on Wednesday evening, free agent right-hander Jeff Samardzija's return to the North Side of Chicago seems more probable than not.

Samardzija wanted to sit down with Epstein to talk about the future, with the hope on both sides that the meeting could help grease the skids for Samardzija's possible return to his original team on a mid-to-long-term contract, according to industry sources. The market for the 30-year-old Samardzija, a northwest Indiana native, will be surprisingly robust despite a down 2015 season with the White Sox.

Samardzija made $9.75 million in 2015. After being dealt from the Athletics to the White Sox in December 2014, something wasn't right from the beginning with Samardzija and his new club. He struggled with his fastball command and got hit early and often in many of his 32 starts. Samardzija was 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA and 1.29 WHIP last season, when he allowed the most hits and earned runs in baseball.

The good news for the Cubs and other teams looking to add a solid rotation starter is that Samardzija is healthy. His fastball still averaged around 94 mph last year despite his bad stat line, and Samardzija topped 213 innings for the third straight season. (It would have been four straight if the Cubs hadn't shut him down early in 2012.) A former Notre Dame football player, Samardzija started his MLB career as a reliever and doesn't have as many innings piled up as most his age. Questions about durability and arm health aren't an issue.

What those in Epstein's position must decide is the risk factor in giving a three- or four-year contract to Samardzija after he struggled in 2015. Regarding the Cubs, Samardzija's ace in the hole is his relationship with pitching coach Chris Bosio. The two had a close friendship and great working chemistry in Samardzija's initial stint with the Cubs.

Samardzija's improvement under Bosio from 2012 until he was traded in July 2014 to the Athletics was significant, and Bosio signed an extension recently to return for his season with the Cubs.

Other teams that have a deep interest in Samardzija are known to be the Yankees, Giants and Diamondbacks. Samardzija's representation is from the Wasserman Media Group.

The contract talks will likely center around a three- to four-year deal with $15 million to $16 million annually in base pay, plus a chance to make more money through incentive clauses. In June 2014, the Cubs originally offered Samardzija a five-year deal potentially worth up to $85 million. It included option years and incentive-based pay.

Samradzija and his agents turned that deal down. He was then traded to Oakland on July 4, 2014, along with right-hander Jason Hammel for shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney and right-hander Dan Straily.

Samardzija turned down a qualifying offer from the White Sox last week that would have given him $15.8 million for one year. The Cubs or any team that finished in the top 20 of the MLB standings last year will lose a pick in the June 2016 draft if they sign a free agent who turned down a qualifying offer like Samardzija did. That compensation goes to the prior club as a sandwich pick.

After a 97-win regular season, the Cubs pick 28th in the 2016 draft, so the price of giving up a pick isn't as high as it has been in years past.

The Cubs are looking to add two starting pitchers and a center fielder through either free agency or the trade route this offseason. The team should have around $20 million to $30 million in added payroll money accessible to the baseball department this winter.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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