Jeff Samardzija just kept betting on himself, supremely confident in his own abilities and the escalating price for pitching, and it’s paying off with a five-year, $90 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.
Samardzija’s final decision came down to the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, a source close to the negotiations said Saturday, with the two National League West rivals reacting to the stunning news that Zack Greinke had agreed to a reported six-year, $206 million megadeal with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Cubs kept up a dialogue with Samardzija’s representatives – president of baseball operations Theo Epstein even met with the pitcher at a Southport Corridor bar before Thanksgiving – but saw where the negotiations would be heading and pivoted toward John Lackey.
The Cubs reached an agreement with Lackey on a two-year, $32 million deal, an industry source confirmed Friday, hours before Greinke stunned the baseball world by turning down the Dodgers and ending his partnership with Clayton Kershaw.
The Giants viewed Samardzija as Plan B after Greinke, clearly looking beyond a disappointing season with the White Sox (11-13, 4.96 ERA) that saw him lead the American League in hits (228) and earned runs allowed (118).
Samardzija didn’t click with White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper and will probably benefit from a better defense behind him, lineups without the designated hitter, an ideal pitching environment and the pennant-race intensity that comes with a franchise that has won three World Series titles since 2010.
The Cubs thought Samardzija could bounce back while working with pitching coach Chris Bosio and rediscover what made him an All-Star in 2014, a breakthrough performance that allowed them to acquire young shortstop Addison Russell from the Oakland A’s.
Samardzija has been inconsistent throughout his career (47-61, 4.09 ERA), but he’s thrown less than 1,000 innings in the big leagues and perceived to be a good bet to stay healthy, given his size (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) and NFL-level athleticism.
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
The Shark’s also not afraid of the bright lights or the pressure that comes with a big contract. His 31st birthday is next month and the Giants clearly believe it could all come together in the Bay Area.
This is also the going rate for someone who’s made at least 32 starts and accounted for 200-plus innings in each of the last three seasons.
So maybe it wasn’t such a big gamble for the Notre Dame All-American wide receiver to choose baseball over the NFL, or the up-and-down reliever to lobby Epstein to become a starter, or turn down long-term extension offers from the Cubs and White Sox.
You might think $90 million sounds crazy now, but this is where the industry is at, throwing money around before the winter meetings that begin Monday in Nashville, Tennessee. And don’t let the long hair and laid-back off-the-field attitude fool you. The Shark always understood baseball economics, dude.