CLEVELAND -- The hot stove is suddenly bustling and it could mean Jeff Samardzija’s departure from the White Sox is near.
After two Thursday trades brought to life a stagnant market, Samardzija delivered a gem in an 8-1 win over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in what could have been his final start with the White Sox.
With only eight shopping days left before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, the impending free agent allowed one run in eight innings as he bested the Indians.
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn couldn’t have better scripted Samardzija’s potential last outing for the team which he grew up rooting, particularly because it comes on the heels of a deal in which the Houston Astros sent two solid prospects to the Oakland A’s for Scott Kazmir. But if any deal involving him is cooking, Samardzija isn’t yet aware.
“It has been totally silent on my end,” Samardzija said. “The parity in this league is so close. Nobody can decide what they want to be and which direction they’re going. That’s with the new wild card spots and profit sharing and a lot of things contributing to these teams being bundled up. It’s like a NASCAR race out there.”
Samardzija ran a nice pace from the get-go Thursday and never hinted he may be distracted by any trade talk.
He needed only 10 pitches to retire Cleveland’s lineup in order in the first inning and never required a pit stop. With only 99 pitches through eight innings, Samardzija probably had enough in the tank for a complete game but White Sox manager Robin Ventura eased off the throttle in the ninth with his team ahead by seven runs.
Samardzija was fantastic in between, looking every bit like a frontline starter as he retired the first eight batters and 15 of 17 through five innings.
“When he has command like that, you can feel when he’s out there and he’s not overexerting himself,” Ventura said. “He just felt in control the whole game.”
Gauging Samardzija’s trade value doesn’t seem as easy as Thursday’s effort.
Samardzija has a 3.91 ERA after a season full of high expectations got off to a bumpy start. His Fielding Independent Pitching stands at 3.53, which indicates how much Samardzija has been hurt by one of baseball’s worst defenses.
Though he has improved significantly with a 2.55 ERA in his last eight outings, Samardzija has been inconsistent. One National League scout suggested Samardzija is “overhyped” because the White Sox feel like he’s a No. 1 or 2 starter and he’s more like a No. 2 or a No. 3.
But a Thursday report from ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick suggested the White Sox expect to receive “a significant haul” for Samardzija before the deadline even though the pitcher is under contract through the end of this season.
White Sox pitcher Chris Sale thinks Samardzija’s value extends beyond the field. Sale pointed to a May 22 win over Minnesota in which Samardzija overcame a two-run first inning to post eight sharp frames despite having a limited arsenal.
“When you try going out there with your ‘C’ stuff, and getting through eight innings of a major league lineup that swings pretty well, those are kind of the little things people might not appreciate,” Sale said. “But those are the things you pick up on and those are the things that make him who he is.”
In exchange for Kazmir, who shares the same contract status as Samardzija, Oakland received Houston’s No. 19 and No. 22 prospects. One baseball executive thinks the White Sox could expect to receive a little more than the A’s did.
But if other teams look at a trade market that seems to be saturated with pitchers and don’t give them what they want, the White Sox could hang on to Samardzija and make him a qualifying offer, which would net them a compensatory first-round pick in the 2016 draft. One scout suggested the White Sox would receive no more than a “B” level prospect for Samardzija to which an American League scout said: “If that was the case, they’d be better off keeping (him) for the draft pick.”
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With 2016 expected to yield a better class than 2015, a draft analyst thought White Sox could potentially receive a prospect with potential to be a major league regular with the compensatory pick. Of equal importance could be the extra signing bonus money the White Sox would receive for that pick and the flexibility it offers.
The White Sox might choose to not deal Samardzija anyway in an attempt to re-sign him in free agency.
Back when the club traded Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley and two others for Samardzija in December, Hahn and Kenny Williams indicated they’d like to keep Samardzija around for the long term. Even though Samardzija’s camp has said all along it intends to seek a fair-market deal in free agency, the White Sox have suggested they might make a play for the Northwest Indiana-native.
The White Sox were one of few suitors who reportedly reached the six-year, $100-million threshold to get into the bidding for Masahiro Tanaka in January 2014 and Hahn hoped he could again convince ownership to put together a similar deal in the future.
“It was a substantial economic offer and if a similar situation presets itself in terms of the ability to find a long-term solution for one of our needs, we’ll be able to dip into those resources again I believe, as was the case with (Jose) Abreu,” Hahn said in January 2014. “Perhaps via trade down the road or into and beyond next season, a similar situation will arise and I expect us to be similarly aggressive.”