Cubs' Samardzija commits to baseball

Samardzija commits to baseball

CHICAGO -- Notre Dame wide receiver Jeff Samardzija has decided to commit fully to baseball, and on Friday, he signed a five-year, $10 million Major League contract with the Chicago Cubs, who drafted the pitcher in the fifth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.

The deal includes two option years, both club options, and it could pay the right-hander $16.5 million. It also includes a $2.5 million signing bonus that Samardzija will return to the Cubs if he decides at any point to pursue another sport -- whether it's football, lacrosse, soccer, whatever.

"This is where I want to be, this is what I want to do and I didn't want any mistake about it," said Samardzija, who announced the deal to kick off the Cubs Convention.

The right-hander, who will turn 22 on Tuesday, will not join other senior college players on Sunday to prep for the Senior Bowl. Instead, Samardzija has to start thinking about pitchers' fielding practice and bullpens. He's already been throwing some on the side.

Samardzija had been projected as a mid-first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Instead, he'll likely be toeing the mound at Class A Daytona.

Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken said that he was impressed by Samardzija's coordination on the mound, his arm speed and his competitiveness.

"The game I saw him in in San Antonio, someone hit a ball off the bat, a slow roller, and to watch his athleticism as he picked the ball up was quite the eye opener," Wilken said.

When he was drafted in June, Samardzija said that he wanted to play both baseball and football, but he said he decided it was too difficult to try to do both. The decision was keeping him up at night and distracting him during classes. He is a few credit hours shy of graduating from Notre Dame, but he does plan on getting his degree. The deadline for his decision was the NFL draft in April.

"I didn't want to stretch it out that long -- I didn't want to put the Cubs in a situation where they felt they had to come up with an extremely insane offer to get me," Samardzija said.

"I never really decided [that playing both sports] was unrealistic," he said. "I just readied myself to make a decision one way or the other. The farther into it you get, the more you see the time overlap and see the difficulty of doing it. The part that really got me was that I didn't want to be spread out so I wouldn't be as good as I can in either sport. The last thing I wanted was to be connected to the Cubs but only 70, 75 percent of a baseball player because of the two sports."

He did get a taste of pro baseball last year after the Draft, pitching for Class A Boise and Peoria. In seven starts, he posted a combined 2.70 ERA, giving up nine earned runs over 30 innings. A standout athlete at Notre Dame, Samardzija went 8-2 with a 4.33 ERA in 15 starts for the Fighting Irish baseball team.

What did he learn during his brief Minor League stint?

"You learn about the routine," he said. "You learn about what it takes and the mental approach to be a baseball player every day. I was excited about it. I loved going to the park every day. I loved going eight, 10 hours a day and working hard. Being with the guys, I loved it so much. I love succeeding, and I thought I pitched great this summer. I wanted more of it."

Don't pencil Samardzija into the Cubs' 2007 starting rotation. He has to cut down on walks and be consistent early in counts, he says.

"People say I have good stuff, and I don't know what that means, but, personally, I just want to force the action early," he said. "I get in trouble when I walk the leadoff batter."

"I knew one thing a long time ago, and that's that he was a special guy," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "I never heard of a guy so committed to making this happen that he voluntarily offered to give the money back if he leaves. He wanted to make it clear there wasn't any turning back."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.