Now, he heads into 2013 as a candidate to be the Cubs' Opening Day starter.
"My arm feels great," Samardzija said Tuesday. "[Being shut down] was what it was, and that was last year and I'm not worried about it. I know how I ended. It was nice to throw a lot in Spring Training and still throw a lot in the season. To know I was over 200 innings was good. I would've liked to have done it during the regular season, but you have to understand there's a plan and go from there."
The Cubs added to the rotation this offseason, signing Edwin Jackson to a four-year, $52 million deal, the largest contract offered to a free agent since Theo Epstein took over as president of baseball operations. Last August, Starlin Castro received a seven-year, $60 million extension.
After the 2012 season ended, the Cubs and Samardzija did discuss a long-term deal, but the pitcher, who was arbitration eligible, ended up signing a one-year contract for $2.64 million.
"We were talking, and we both have the same interests in mind," Samardzija said. "We both want me to be here, and we want to be a part of this team for a long time. When we feel we're on the same page with that, then we'll get it done. That was offseason talk, that's what happened at the end of the year.
"I still haven't proven myself to where I want to be as a player," he said. "I was happy with last year, but I don't want to stay there, I want to improve and get better. I think the more I show them that, the more comfortable they'll be with getting a deal done. [Contract discussions are] not even close to the front of the burner right now. It's so far on the back, it's history, to tell you the truth."
Last season, Samardzija was 9-13 in 28 starts with a 3.81 ERA. He finished on a high note, throwing a complete game against the Pirates on Sept. 8. Cubs manager Dale Sveum considers Samardzija as having the potential to be the ace of the staff.
"No doubt, I think we have a No. 1 guy, just by his last eight to 10 starts, the way he matured as a starting pitcher, and understood a lot of different things," Sveum said. "Going into this year, there's no baby gloves on him, no restraints. ... That stuff and that durability throughout nine innings and the ability to get to 120, 125 pitches, is what you want in a No. 1 starter."
No. 1 starters are usually well paid. Samardzija is aware of the business of baseball.
"It doesn't make much sense to sit down and try to negotiate anything out when I don't have a full season under my belt," he said. "Now we're just talking potential."
If the Cubs had gotten Samardzija to agree to a long-term deal this past offseason, it might have been at a lower cost.
"I don't know -- I'm not a [general manager]," Samardzija said, laughing. "You tell me."
Sveum sees Samardzija as more than a pitcher but also one of the leaders on the team. That has something to do with his athletic background as an All-America wide receiver at Notre Dame.
"He's got all the intangibles -- leader on the field, leader off the field, vocal, work ethic, and obviously, being one of your better players," Sveum said. "That always helps to be a leader is being one of your better players."
Samardzija feels he still has things to prove.
"I want to know where I stand as a whole, from beginning to end, start to finish," he said. "If I do this, and I have a full season, then you can start comparing to other guys. Right now, I feel it's a lot of 'What do you think?' and 'What do I think?' That's not going to get anything done.
"I'd rather have some more concrete stats and some concrete evidence on what's going on. I think a big thing is, I'm a healthy dude -- knock on wood -- and I work hard," he said. "I want to play. When you play well and have success, all that stuff takes care of itself."
He hasn't asked the Cubs to table contract discussions, joking that he's a "multitasker."
"I look at it as a positive," he said. "If they want to talk to me about that stuff, and we're doing this and we're going back and forth, then obviously, I'm wanted, and they want me to be here and that's a positive. I don't look at it as a negative and we're not getting in each other's way. Honestly, we haven't talked about it in months. I'm not too worried about it. The ball's in their court. I'm just going to go out and play."