Jeff Samardzija

Samardzija sends 'start fast' message to new-look Giants

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USATSI

Samardzija sends 'start fast' message to new-look Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — At some point this month, Bruce Bochy will stand in front of his players in the home clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium and deliver a motto for the season. Jeff Samardzija already knows what it should be. 

“The words coming out of my mouth all spring will be ‘start fast,’” Samardzija said during an appearance on The Giants Insider Podcast. “You can’t win it in the first month but you want to be right there for a good summer run and then a late fall run, too.”

The Giants got a reminder of that reality last season. They were 10 games out of first by May 9, and before the weather ever got warm they had been buried by the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies. Some would look at last year’s NL West standings and see a problem for 2018. Samardzija watched three division rivals make the postseason and saw an opportunity. He remembers how hard the Giants had to grind physically and mentally to make it to the NLDS the year before. 

“We know we’ve got three playoff teams coming into the season in our division, but (those are) three teams that had long seasons, you know, and battled and left a lot out there,” he said. “Hopefully we can pick it up early and get off to a fast start and see where we’re at.”

To make sure this April follows a different path, the Giants brought in Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen and Austin Jackson. Samardzija is very familiar with McCutchen, having faced him 40 times over the years, mostly while both were in the NL Central. He already has run into Longoria at the Scottsdale facility, and he certainly will benefit from the addition of Jackson, who will help shore up an outfield defense that hurt Samardzija more than any Giants pitcher. 

Samardzija said the group is already bonding and they have found common ground in a trait that outsiders view as their potential downfall. The Giants have added three 30-somethings to an already old team, but the 33-year-old Samardzija said that has become a rallying cry.

“(We’re) joking around about our ages. That’s the cool thing about having a bunch of veteran guys,” he said. “Everyone has thick skin and has been there and is able to take things with a grain of salt. Everyone understands that the stories will be written after the 162 games are played and that’s when it matters.”

For more from the interview, including Samardzija’s thoughts on what makes McCutchen such a special player, stream the Giants Insider Podcast here or download it on iTunes here.

Samardzija still follows lessons learned on gridiron from Willingham

Samardzija still follows lessons learned on gridiron from Willingham

SAN FRANCISCO — Jeff Samardzija was a two-sport star in high school and at Notre Dame. He has played for four different big league organizations over 10 seasons, and spent parts of five seasons in the minor leagues. 

Samardzija had many options when asked to choose someone he wanted to honor at the annual Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards, and given the way his career has played out, he made a somewhat surprising decision. During the event that airs on NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday night at 9 p.m., Samardzija will honor former Notre Dame football coach Tyrone Willingham, who finished the recruitment of Samardzija to Notre Dame but was let go before the wide receiver became a national star.

Samardzija said Willingham’s lessons during their two years together “have always stuck with me,” and like many of the athletes who have presented at the Game Changer Awards in recent years, he made his choice because of the things that were taught when the spotlight was off. 

“I think he was always, in a sense, coaching,” Samardzija said. “He was such a big attitude coach. He was always big about the way you approach things and handle things and look forward and just the way you carry yourself. There are great times in sports and then there are down times in your career, and how you handle both of those situations is always so important. 

“Also what stuck with me was just the way he never stopped teaching. He always found moments. If he saw you slacking in that given moment, he wasn’t afraid to jump all over you. He just was always about doing things the right way and pressing the fact that if you stay in that process over time, things are going to go in your favor.”

More than a decade after his football career ended, Samardzija is still taking that approach. He is the same after games whether the Giants won or lost, always pushing the need to move on from that day’s game and focus on the next one. Even in a 98-loss season, Samardzija was relentlessly positive, and on the mound he found improvements to his command that took parts of his game to a new level. 

Without Willingham, though, it’s possible that Samardzija never would have turned into a veteran starter known for cranking out one 200-inning season after the next. Samardzija went to Notre Dame on a football scholarship and Willingham didn’t have to let him play baseball in the spring. But Willingham had been a two-sport athlete himself at Michigan State, and he made it a priority to keep Samardzija well-rounded. 

“To have that power and to not abuse it, I’m forever grateful for it,” Samardzija said. “It takes a good man to be able to look forward and see what could be and to not prevent a kid his opportunities and limit his opportunities.”

For more from Samardzija on Willingham, his Notre Dame career, and the moves the Giants have made this offseason, check out his interview on the Giants Insider Podcast.

Evaluating Giants 'painful' trade options

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USATSI

Evaluating Giants 'painful' trade options

SAN FRANCISCO — Two years ago, the Giants entered the offseason with a clear goal of adding to the rotation. They scooped up Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto. Last year, there was no doubt that the priority had to be getting a closer, so Mark Melancon was brought in. 

The 2017 offseason is quite a bit more complicated. The Giants have an aging roster that just lost 98 games, a payroll that is bumping up against the tax for a fourth straight year, and a farm system that is poorly rated and not yet ready to fill the major league club. 

It’s a sobering time for Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans and the rest of the front office, which is why they so often mention how painful this winter might be. Sabean did so again on a recent episode of “The TK Show.”

“There are going to be some painful decisions,” Sabean told Tim Kawakami. “To do what we need to do to be competitive to start the year and hopefully have that roll into also making some moves at the deadline, we’re going to have to make some tough choices and may have to move some payroll, which means moving some people that we perhaps under normal circumstances would not.”

When it comes to moving money, the Giants would love to find a way to shed the $18.5 million they owe Hunter Pence and $11 million they owe Denard Span, but those aren’t realistic options. Those are not the players Sabean is talking about when he refers to pain. Neither are Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford or Madison Bumgarner, the three Giants viewed as most untouchable. 

When you’re talking pain, you’re really only talking about a few regulars. Here’s a look at some players the Giants might have to make decisions on:

Joe Panik: The greatest strength of a terrible team was infield defense up the middle, which also means Panik serves as the front office’s best trade chip. You can bet there are a few general managers out there who would like to see what the 27-year-old could do with a full season away from AT&T Park; he hit .320 on the road last season with all 10 of his homers. Panik also brings cost certainty, as he’s just now entering his arbitration years. The Giants don’t want to break up their Crawnik duo. They also might find themselves with no choice, and with Kelby Tomlinson and Christian Arroyo in the wings, this is one position where they have options ready in-house. 

Brandon Belt: Many Giants fans focus on what he doesn’t do, but the people filling front offices can see what he does do. Belt is an elite defender with a strong eye at the plate and power that would play up outside of AT&T Park. He’s also owed $64 million over the next four seasons, about to turn 30, and coming off his fourth concussion in eight years. On the surface, it seems just about impossible to move him at this moment, but some big-market teams (most notably the Red Sox) have sniffed around in the past and could find that Belt is a nice alternative to more expensive free agent options like Eric Hosmer. 

Jeff Samardzija: He’s coming off a sneaky-good season that was wrecked in large part by the Giants’ outfield defense, is as durable as it gets, and has the repertoire that will forever have opposing pitching coaches dreaming of unlocking an ace. There was interest in Samardzija at the deadline and there will be this winter, with a lack of quality starting options on the market. At the same time, he has a restrictive no-trade clause and has made it clear he likes being in San Francisco. This one is highly unlikely, but Evans will again get calls on a pitcher who could step into any rotation and toss 200 innings next season. 

Hunter Strickland: The Giants have said they want to upgrade center field, third base and the bullpen … so why would they deal a reliever? Well, if Mark Melancon returns to form, they’re actually in decent shape from the right side, with Sam Dyson, Cory Gearrin and Kyle Crick backing Melancon, and youngsters like Reyes Moronta, Chris Stratton and Tyler Beede potentially being options. To fill one hole, the Giants will have to create another, and a small-market team out there could view Strickland as a cheap (he’s due about $1.7 million this year) option in the late innings.