Jeff Samardzija said he knew where he wanted to sign soon after the Giants approached him at the start of his first foray into free agency last month. But he didn’t let on right away.
“Obviously you’ve got to play it cool, right?” Samardzija said. “Free agency, it’s kind of like being in high school and trying to find a homecoming date. You just don’t want to be left out there in the cold.”
The Giants agreed they had found a match, signing Samardzija, 30, to a five-year, $90 million deal to bolster their starting rotation behind Madison Bumgarner. The deal became official Tuesday, and the Giants introduced Samardzija at AT&T Park on Friday, handing him a No. 29 jersey and a black cap to pull over his long hair.
The Giants’ No. 29 was once worn by Jason Schmidt, and comparisons already have been drawn between the right-handers. Samardzija also is a hard thrower – his average fastball velocity of 94.2 mph was 15th among major-league starters last season – and he has a track record of pitching deep into games, throwing at least 213 innings in each of the past three seasons.
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Bullpen overuse was an issue in 2015 for the Giants, whose starters besides Bumgarner struggled to pitch into the later innings. Brian Sabean, the team’s vice president of baseball operations, said Friday the Giants feel they added “one of the workhorse starters in the game.”.
Everybody wants innings. As much as this contract is about performance, it’s about going to the post. And I think the greatest compliment we can pay Jeff is that last year under some duress, the season didn’t go as planned, he pitched 214 innings.
Giants vice president Brian Sabean on free-agent acquisition Jeff Samardzija
“Everybody wants innings,” Sabean said. “As much as this contract is about performance, it’s about going to the post. And I think the greatest compliment we can pay Jeff is that last year under some duress – the season didn’t go as planned – he pitched 214 innings.”
In his lone season with the Chicago White Sox, Samardzija had a 4.96 ERA and led the American League in hits, earned runs and home runs allowed. Samardzija offered one theory for those struggles.
“When you’re tipping your pitches, it’s hard to have success out there,” he said Friday.
Samardzija said he and the White Sox staff discovered he was tipping his pitches before his second-to-last start. In his final two starts, against the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals, Samardzija threw a one-hit shutout and allowed two runs in seven innings.
While the Giants and Samardzija didn’t discuss his pitch-tipping issues before agreeing to their deal, Sabean said he watched 10 of Samardzija’s starts from last season and was most impressed by his durability, even in games in which he struggled. The Giants clearly feel confident they signed the pitcher who had a 3.70 ERA and 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings over his first three seasons as a big-league starter for the Chicago Cubs and A’s, and they believe Samardzija will benefit from working with pitching coach Dave Righetti and executive Dick Tidrow, a former major-league pitcher.
Samardzija said he looks forward to working with catcher Buster Posey and pitching in front of a Giants defense that ranked analytically among the majors’ best last season, compared to the White Sox’s defense, one of the worst.
To have Buster back there, that’s just icing on the cake. There’s not going to be too many opportunities as a professional athlete that the guy you’re throwing to is a Hall of Fame guy with a head on his shoulders like Buster has. To do everything the right way like he does, it says a lot, and I’m just really excited to get on that mound.
New Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija
“To have Buster back there, that’s just icing on the cake,” Samardzija said. “There’s not going to be too many opportunities as a professional athlete that the guy you’re throwing to is a Hall of Fame guy with a head on his shoulders like Buster has. To do everything the right way like he does, it says a lot, and I’m just really excited to get on that mound.”
The outgoing right-hander also seemed excited to return to the Bay Area, even though while pitching for Oakland in the second half of 2014 he lived in hotels because “I went to rent and $7,000 in San Fran doesn’t quite get you what you’re looking for – it’s more of a dorm room.” He said the city’s hotels are “amazing.”
“I love how people have their own thing going on in San Francisco, whatever that may be,” Samardzija said. “A lot of drive in this city and a lot of passion, which you can feel. It’s palpable here.”
Now that the Giants have addressed their main offseason priority, general manager Bobby Evans said the team remains on the lookout for starting pitching and outfield help. Evans said the market for outfielders should start to heat up after Jason Heyward signed an eight-year deal with the Cubs on Friday, and that while the Giants could try to make another move before Christmas, the timing is not imperative.