Since 2006, Jeff Samardzija has undergone a metamorphosis quite like no other in recent baseball history.
He went from eyebrow-raising draft pick by the Cubs to relief pitcher to starting-pitcher project to a guy who had to make the team just two years ago to the undisputed ace of the starting rotation.
Cubs scouting reportCubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field
TV: WGN Friday and Sunday; FOX Saturday
Radio: WGN 720-AM
Pitching matchups: The Cubs' Edwin Jackson (4-7) vs. Charlie Morton (4-7) Friday at 3:05 p.m.; Travis Wood (7-5) vs. Vance Worley (0-0) Saturday at 6:15 p.m.; Jason Hammel (6-4) vs. Brandon Cumpton (2-2) Sunday at 1:20 p.m.
At a glance: The Cubs are 3-7 against the Pirates this year, 1-2 at Wrigley Field. After making the playoffs for the first time in more than two decades last year, the Pirates are struggling in fourth place in the NL Central. The Bucs' hitting is just fine, as they entered Thursday second in the NL in batting average and first in on-base percentage. But their team ERA of 3.92 ranked 12th. Worley is recently up from Class AAA Indianapolis to give some help to the rotation. MVP Andrew McCutchen leads the Pirates in the key offensive categories. He went into Thursday with a line of .321/.432/.546 with 11 homers and 41 RBI. The Cubs are opening a 10-game homestand.
Next: Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field, Monday-Wednesday
-- Bruce Miles
Now he wants to be paid like an ace.
It's hard to fault Samardzija for that, and no one should.
Between now and the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline, Samardzija will be one of the hottest names in baseball as contending teams try to pry him from the Cubs.
If it were up to me, I'd keep Samardzija by signing him to a long-term deal. Even though he turns 30 in January, there are relatively few miles on his right arm and shoulder. Samardzija also is a hard worker and team leader, so who better to set an example when all of the Cubs' prospects come to the big leagues?
There are two sides to this equation: Samardzija and the Cubs. Reports this week say Samardzija has turned down an offer of $85 million over five years. Such a deal would have an average annual value of $17 million.
Samardzija cannot become a free agent until after the 2015 season, and he may not want to commit long term with the Cubs, whose rebuilding project may take considerably longer than originally thought.
He also may be looking at "the comps," or the comparable salaries being paid to top-of-the-line pitchers around baseball.
The name that comes up most often is Homer Bailey of the Reds, who has a deal worth $105 million over six years. Writing for fangraphs.com, Dave Cameron argues: "Bailey really is a good comparison for Samardzija, and it's difficult to argue that Samardzija should take less than what Bailey just got a few months ago. However, as we noted at the time, the Bailey deal looks like an overpay, and teams shouldn't be signing up match that kind of price/performance ratio."
Samardzija and his people also may be looking at the Giants' Matt Cain, who has a deal worth $127.5 million over six years, and the Phillies' Cole Hamels, who is at $144 million over six years.
For the Cubs, Samardzija is a more attractive piece of trade bait now than he would be next year, with free agency approaching.
Last year, the Cubs got Neil Ramirez, Mike Olt, Justin Grimm and C.J. Edwards for pitcher Matt Garza. That's a pretty nice haul. Samardzija's health history is much better than that of Garza, and he brings more leadership value.
The Cubs should hold out for something just as good if not better.
Finally back home:
If you think the Cubs haven't been home much, you'd be right.
They return to Wrigley Field Friday after playing 20 of their last 26 games on the road. It was a pretty good run for the Cubs, who went 14-12.
On the most recent road trip, the Cubs went 5-5 at stops in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Miami. They got 5 quality starts, 2 from Jake Arrieta, who pitched 7 shutout innings in Philly and 7 innings of 1-run ball in Miami.
Don't look now, but Arrieta is 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA since he came off the disabled list on May 3.
On offense, Starlin Castro was 17-for-40 (.425) on the trip with 3 homers. Anthony Rizzo was 11-for-36 (.306) with 2 homers. And Luis Valbuena, who has turned into the third-best offensive player on the team, was 14-for-30 (.467) with a homer.
Valbuena's season line is .284/.382/.458. His .382 on-base percentage is ninth in the National League, three slots below Rizzo's OBP of .401.
Making it official:
The Cubs on Thursday made official the signings of four high-round draft choices, all pitchers.
They signed second-rounder Jake Stinnett, a right-hander; fourth-rounder Carson Sands, a lefty; fifth-round selection Justin Steele, a lefty; and seventh-rounder James Norwood, a right-hander.
• Follow Bruce on Twitter@BruceMiles2112.