Samardzija agent on extension: ‘You know situation — it’s difficult’

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The getting-to-know-you process between the White Sox and Jeff Samardzija begins in less than three weeks when pitchers and catchers report to spring training. In the Sox’ perfect world, Samardzija will fall in love, make a long-term commitment and live happily ever after.

The Sox traded for the 30-year-old top-of-the-rotation caliber right-hander who is expected to be one of the top prizes in free agency after the 2015 season knowing they would have him for one year and hoping to sweep him off his feet and position themselves to win him over for more. The White Sox could pop the question and sign Samardzija to an extension before he hits the open market, but as his agent, Mark Rodgers, told MLB Network Radio, that would mean saying no to the romantic world of knowing what it was like to be Max Scherzer this offseason.

“The truth of the matter is, the system we have in baseball those who get to that sixth year and survive it typically get compensated the best,” Rodgers said. “And you have to get there. We’ve worked with A.J. Burnett, Mike Hampton, Cliff Lee and even Andrew Miller this offseason. You have to get to that finish line and cross it before you find out what your ultimate value is in the open market, which is what free agency is all about. But at the end of the day, we owe it to the White Sox to at least consider anything that they would want to talk about.

“I have a lot of respect for the White Sox. They have put in a lot of work to make that club better. With all due respect for [chairman Jerry] Mr. Reinsdorf, and to [general manager] Rick Hahn who has done a heck of a job and [vice president] Kenny Williams — I told those guys, ‘any time you want to talk I’ll listen.’ Jeff and I will certainly talk but it’s difficult. You guys know the situation, you know the landscape.”

The Sox will pay Samardzija $9.8 million for 2015. The landscape for Scherzer on this winter’s free-agent market delivered a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Washington Nationals. Jon Lester signed with the Cubs for $155 million over six years. Another typical Samardzija season could put him in the same ballpark, or at the least close to it.

“Jeff Samardzija brings a certain skill set,” Rodgers said, already drumming up his (sound) sales pitch. “Although he just turned 30 he’s a fresh pitcher. He has the least amount of pitches on his arm than any of these guys because he didn’t pitch much in high school, didn’t play travel ball, or didn’t play fall baseball at Notre Dame. So he has a fairly fresh arm and has never been on the disabled list a day in his career. He’s a big, strong horse kind of a guy.

“I love his makeup and competitive nature but he’s trending. If you look at the statistics, every year he has gotten better. Improvement on strikeouts to walk ration. He pounds the zone. He has great stuff. If Jeff continues to get exponentially better I don’t know where the market for that goes. He’s got No. 1 stuff. Chris Sale is the No. 1 guy there so Jeff is going to be in the 2-hole but he has Cy Young stuff, he can win 20 games, strike out 230 or 240 guys in 220 innings and have a monster year. So to talk about his value in free agency a year early would do him an injustice because I think there is more to come.”

As Rodgers noted, the free agent class of pitchers that includes Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmerman, David Price, Matt Latos, Rick Porcello and Doug Fister will be deep, so the Sox could have that going for them. In any event, keeping Samardzija could come at a price they have never had to pay for a player.

“When we acquired Jeff we made no secret about the fact that we hoped this was a long-term situation, a long-term arrangement,” Hahn said. “That said, it wasn’t going to happen overnight. 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. Everything we’ve heard and researched about him and his makeup and fit has been off the charts and every interaction we’ve had since the acquisition has reinforced that feeling. It’s a learning process. 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.”

If nothing works out, for the price of four prospects, the Sox will have had Samardzija for one season, and they stand to receive draft-pick compensationshould he decline a qualifying offer next fall.

For Samardzija, playing for a team he grew up rooting for as a kid in Northwest Indiana is about as ideal as it gets going into free agency. That the team has been built to win only makes it better for the fiercely competitive former Notre Dame wide receiver.

“I’m excited to be in the situation I’m in,” Samardzija said. “I’m a year away from free agency. I’ve worked my tail off. I’ve came from pretty much nothing in the big leagues to where I am today. I think I have a good sense of center of where I need to be as a person and as a player. I’ve seen both sides. I’ve seen the good and I’ve seen the bad. I understand how fragile it is with what we do and how hard of work it is and this and that. I’m just trying to enjoy myself. I’m trying to go in and let it all hang out this year and give everything I have to this organization this year and go from there.”

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