Shark, Giants perfect fit in bounceback campaign
Veteran righty gets five-year, $90 million deal after posting 4.96 ERA in 2015
Forget about a mulligan. Jeff Samardzija doesn't need one.
Samardzija is getting his big contract, and the Giants are getting themselves both a fresh arm and a project for pitching coach Dave Righetti. In the fallout from the Zack Greinke stunner -- and the all-in, unsuccessful run at Jon Lester a year ago -- this is tidy marriage of two parties who need each other.
Samardzija bet on himself when he turned down a qualifying offer from the White Sox, in addition to the Cubs' overtures on an extension in 2014. He was a mess for most of his stay on the South Side, but he winds up with a five-year, $90 million deal that reflects the value of 200-inning arms and the Giants' need for arms behind Madison Bumgarner.
Here's good news for San Francisco fans: executive vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean and GM Bobby Evans aren't done yet.
The Giants have joined the D-backs, Cardinals and others in the Mike Leake derby, and like the Dodgers and Mariners, they are pursuing Hisashi Iwakuma.
This is what you do when you have a team that believes in big, tough starting pitchers and you haven't finished in the top six in starter ERA since 2012.
There's going to be some skepticism about Samardzija, who last season gave up the most hits, home runs and earned runs in the American League. But this is a guy who was one of the best pitchers in the National League in 2014, pitching so well (2.83 ERA over 17 starts) that the A's were willing to send shortstop Addison Russell to the Cubs in a midseason trade.
The former wide receiver never minded going over the middle to catch passes while at Notre Dame. Samardzija is putting himself in the danger zone again in terms of the expectations he'll carry when he goes back to the Bay Area.
After all, 2016 is an even-numbered year, and you know what San Francisco fans will believe that means when they travel to Scottsdale, Ariz., for Spring Training.
It speaks highly of Samardzija that the Cubs were interested in possibly bringing him back to Wrigley Field after he flopped for the White Sox, going 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA. Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio remains firmly in his corner, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein will never forget his first meeting with Samardzija, who had spent all of 2011 as a reliever.
Samardzija convinced Epstein and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer to give him a chance to start in 2012, and his career took off. He used 96-mph fastballs, a nasty split-finger and a solid slider to strike out 180 in 174 2/3 for that 101-loss Cubs team, and he emerged as a front-end starter in '13.
The one thing Samardzija has never done is win. He's 47-61 in his career, with double-digit wins only in 2015, but it won't be a surprise to see him become a consistent 15-game winner working in a good ballpark for pitchers with a group of strong fielders behind him.
Samardzija is absolutely going to love throwing to Buster Posey. Ditto pitching in front of infielders such as Brandon Crawford, Matt Duffy and Brandon Belt. The Giants finished fifth in the Major Leagues in Defensive Runs Saved last year, and they were even better in Ultimate Zone Rating, ranking behind only the Royals.
Samardzija's competitiveness will play well at AT&T Park. Had he continued his football career, he would have been a perfect fit for the old Raiders, as he wears his emotions on his sleeve and plays off the crowd. Samardzija fought with Lorenzo Cain and the Royals last April, showing teammates he had their backs in an incident sparked by Yordano Ventura.
Samardzija will love all those sellouts at the gorgeous park with the cove in right field and the giant glove in left field. It's been his misfortune that he's spent too much time playing in front of half-filled crowds.
Samardzija came along for the wrong time with the Cubs, and he was part of a team that was unable to reverse the White Sox fortunes. He loved high-stakes games at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, and he was what pretty much everything Billy Beane expected him to be down the stretch in 2014.
Righetti is going to love working with Samardzija. The first thing the two of them should do is throw away all the video from last season and dig in on that first half of 2014, when Samardzija was consistently dominant.
Samardzija threw more cutters and fewer splitters after moving to the White Sox. He lost a little bit of velocity and all of his rhythm, and he wound up trying to reinvent himself in July and August. Samardzija seemed lost at times, trying to deceive hitters with a Luis Tiant/Johnny Cueto-style delivery, but he found something in September.
Samardzija's one-hitter against the Tigers was a masterpiece. His two-run, seven-hit win over the Royals in the last week of the season was pure blue-collar success.
Samardzija will pitch at 31 next season, but he has fewer than 1,000 Major League innings on his arm. He's got toughness and a pitcher's body. It's an impressive package that should work well. It might even help the Giants tap back into that even-year magic.