CHICAGO (AP) — Jeff Samardzija can see the big picture coming into focus for the Chicago Cubs.
They're about to begin their second season with Theo Epstein leading the front office, and the right-hander believes the pieces are starting to fall into place.
Samardzija said he "absolutely" likes what he's seeing from management, and he wasn't referring to the one-year contract he agreed to on Friday. He sees a team coming off a 101-loss season that just might surprise a few people.
"You understand that they care and that they're making their decisions," he said Friday at the Cubs' annual fan convention. "Obviously, some of those decisions are hard decisions. That's why there are only certain people making them. Yeah, I like what they're doing. They're winners."
A year ago, optimism on the north side was as heavy as a slice of deep dish pizza.
Epstein, the man who built two championship winners in Boston, had just taken over as president of baseball operations and was leading a front office that included new general manager Jed Hoyer.
Hope that the Cubs were on the path to their first title since 1908 was soaring.
But even Epstein and Hoyer didn't realize just how big a task they were facing as they began to overhaul the roster and the farm system.
A year in, well, the Cubs believe the results are coming. Never mind the record last season.
"We are building something long-term," Hoyer said. "Our goal ultimately is to get to the point where we're a team with great young players and we're going to make the playoffs every single year or eight out of 10 years."
Players believe the right steps are being taken.
"I think we have a better chance this year because of what I see so far," Alfonso Soriano said.
They believe they have enough arms after bringing in Edwin Jackson to lead a rotation that includes Matt Garza and Samardzija. Throw in Travis Wood and newcomers Scott Baker and Scott Feldman, and the Cubs have six potential starters.
They also can boast a young All-Star in shortstop Starlin Castro and a Gold Glove second baseman in Darwin Barney.
The four-year, $52 million deal the Cubs gave Jackson after they tried to sign Anibal Sanchez was a break from the pattern of acquiring low-priced players, hoping they can contribute. It was a signal that management was looking for improvement now while eyeing the future.
Who exactly will be a part of that future remains to be seen.
Soriano said Friday that he would like to stick around. He has two seasons left on his eight-year, $136 million deal, and while he's been slowed by injuries, he showed that he can still be productive when healthy.
There were rumors last season that he might be traded to San Francisco, but Soriano nixed them when he said he didn't want to go there. He wound up finishing with 32 homers and 108 RBIs.
Soriano said he hasn't talked with management about his future since the end of the season but would like to do so soon.
"Like I said, I'm ready to play hard here or for another team because this is my job," Soriano said. "This is what I like to do."
Garza, meanwhile, said he's "champing at the bit" to get back on the mound after having his season cut short by an injury to his pitching elbow. The right-hander expects to have no restrictions when camp starts.
He likes the additions made to the Cubs and sees no reason why they can't make the playoffs.
"There's no reason to suit up every year if that's not what you're trying to do," he said.
Garza's name frequently comes up in trade talks. He agreed to a one-year, $10.25 million deal that avoided salary arbitration and wouldn't mind discussing a multiyear contract.
He's said he's not focused on that at the moment, though, and management isn't ready to offer one, anyway.
"It's not the right time right now," Hoyer said. "He hasn't pitched since (July 21). He feels great, he feels healthy. I think if there's a time in the future where he feels really good, that's a more rational time to have that discussion."
A long-term contract is also something Samardzija would like to continue to discuss. He said the sides talked about a multiyear deal before agreeing to a one-year contract that includes a $2.64 million salary and an additional $125,000 in available performance bonuses.
"There's definitely common ground between both of us that we both want to be here in Chicago," he said. "That's really all that needs to be said. We will continue to talk."