BOCA RATON, Fla. – Even after his worst season in the majors, former Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija continues to have enough believers in the industry and enough health to suggest a strong market as a free agent this winter – possibly even strong enough to price him out of the Cubs’ comfort zone.
Major league sources say the Yankees have interest, and the Cubs plan to explore what it would take to bring Samardzija back to his original organization. The Giants have long been fans of Samardzija, and the Dodgers also could be a fit.
Samardzija struggled to an 11-13 season with a 4.96 ERA in 214 innings for the White Sox this year, leading the majors in hits allowed (228) and earned runs (118), and the American League in home runs (29).
“It’s a big of a head scratcher, especially since he was healthy all year and was able to take the ball every fifth day,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said as the GM meetings got underway Monday in Florida. “He certainly gave us the innings we were counting on getting from those starts, and occasionally he showed flashes of what he had done in the past and what he’s capable of doing going forward.
A less-than-ideal fit with pitching coach Don Cooper didn’t help. And one longtime major-league evaluator suggested Samardzija’s problems were mechanics-related and fixable.
“He’s still very strong,” Hahn said, adding that he expects Samardzija to be a “guy who’s going to have a robust market.”
That market could be impacted by the compensation draft pick tied to the qualifying offer the Sox made Samardzija, and he might have to wait out some of the bigger names in a deep pool of starting pitching. He could command a four- or five-year deal (at between $15 million and $20 million per year).
If he signs somewhere early in the process, it could involve a comfort zone in a reunion with either Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild (his first big-league coach) or Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio (who helped him become an All-Star starter).
Which might look especially good after his year on the South Side.
“It didn’t work,” Hahn said. “These things happen from time to time. A guy with a relatively proven track record occasionally has a year that ultimately, when all is said and done, looks like an aberration. That could well be what happens with Jeff.
“Obviously, it’s unfortunate that it happened on our watch. We all had high expectations, including Jeff of himself. In terms of the impact it has on him going forward or us going forward, I think it’s relatively non-existent.”