Jeff Samardzija soaked in his first SoxFest on Friday, eager to get acquainted with new teammates, feeling confident about the Sox’ chances to compete in 2015 and feeling like he belongs.
“I’m excited and I’m home,” Samardzija said.
A Sox fan as a kid growing up in Valparaiso, Ind., who was drafted by the Cubs in 2006 and played on the North Side through the first half of last season, Samardzija’s presence at this Sox’ fan gathering at the Chicago Hilton is a primary reason for renewed optimism on the South Side. Traded for during the winter meetings in December, his fit in the Sox rotation should give the Sox one of the stronger 1-2-3 sets with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.
“I think this team is built to win and most importantly built to compete every day,” Samardzija said. “As a professional player the most exciting aspect is that every day when we exchange the lineups we’re coming to win. You have a lot of professionals on this team. That’s what’s exciting – no matter the situation we’re coming out to win every day.”
The Sox kicked off the fan convention by introducing new closer David Robertson, lefty relievers Zach Duke and Dan Jennings and Samardzija along with returnees Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Avisail Garcia, Alexei Ramirez, Tyler Flowers and Conor Gillaspie, among others.
“I’m excited to get to spring training, get to know these teammates and build relationships that will last a lifetime,” Samardzija said.
Samardzija’s only previous fan fest experiences were Cub Conventions. He heard the buzz created when former teammate Anthony Rizzo predictedthe Cubs would win their division.
“I’m just going to let Anthony do his talking,” Samardzija said, smiling.
“The ideal situation is if we are meeting at the end of the year [in the World Series]. That’s what it’s all about. That’s the goals for both teams. It’s really exciting to have those goals be realistic for both teams. The city deserves it. Everyone deserves it. That’s what it should be in this city.”
Samardzija will be a free agent at the end of the season and general manager Rick Hahn said he hopes the relationship with the Sox will give him a shot at extending his stay.
“I haven’t discussed it all,” Samardzija said. “It hasn’t been brought up to me. Until something happens that is worth discussion we’ll talk about it but till then we’ll prep for the start of the season.
“That’s the least of my worries. I have such a big responsibility to this team and such a big part that I can’t let anything get in my way of giving everything I have. No distractions. I have to prove to this team who I am and who I’m all about.
“I haven’t played with any of these guys, they don’t know me personally so my job is not to come out and cloud everything with contract talks, my job is to do the job on the mound and get those guys want to play with me every fifth day that I pitch.”
General manager Rick Hahn expressed a hope to have Samardzija long term the day the trade with the A’s was announced.“That said, it wasn’t going to happen overnight,” Hahn said Friday. “There’s going to be a process of him getting to know us and what we’re about and show and understand the direction of this club and our intention to compete for the length of time that he’s here. On the other hand, we need to get to know him too.“It’s going to take some time until each side is comfortable with each other and then in private we’ll see if we can hammer something out.”A contingent of 2005 players from the World Series championship team including Scott Podsednik, Aaron Rowand, Joe Crede, Jose Contreras, Jon Garland, Tadahito Iguchi and Geoff Blum were introduced to a big ovation.Said Podsednik, who hit a walkoff home run in Game 2 of the World Series: “You create a special bond with guys you grind with and win a World Series.”
Carlos Rodon, Courtney Hawkins and Tim Anderson were among the Sox top prospects in attendance for the sold-out event, which runs through Sunday. One of Hahn’s biggest accomplishments was retooling the Sox in relatively quick order without thinning out the farm system, although he did give up Chris Bassitt and Marcus Semien in a four-player package that brought Samardzija from the A’s.
“We view ourselves as a contender, absolutely,” said Hahn, who was showered with praise at a fan session he attended with manager Robin Ventura and broadcaster Steve Stone. “At the same time when we started this process midway through 2013, the intention was not to jump up and contend for one season: it was to put us in position for sustained success. We feel that we’ve acquired, in most every instance, an important piece for us for not just ’15, but for ’16 and beyond. And at the same time we were able to do this without leaving too big a dent on our Minor League system, which is getting to the point now of being able to add guys who are going to contribute at the Major League level not just in ’15 but beyond.”