SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants moved quickly after missing out on Zack Greinke, agreeing to terms Saturday morning on a five-year, $90 million deal with right-hander Jeff Samardzija. The deal is pending a physical, which will be taken Tuesday.
While Samardzija is coming off a down season with the Chicago White Sox, the Giants see plenty of reasons to believe he’ll bounce back and give them a strong No. 2 behind Madison Bumgarner. The 30-year-old had a 4.96 ERA last season but he’s just a year removed from posting a 2.99 ERA across 219 2/3 innings for the Cubs and A’s.
The Giants are attracted to that durability, as Bumgarner is their only pitcher to throw a 200-inning season since 2012. Samardjiza has topped 213 for three consecutive seasons, and because he wasn’t a full-time starter until 2012 he doesn’t come with the usual wear-and-tear of a free agent pitcher.
General manager Bobby Evans said the pitcher nicknamed “Shark” is “a horse” when it comes to workload.
“Even in tough times (last year) he still put 200-plus innings on the board,” Evans said. “You look at his track record, you look at his presence that he brings on the mound, you look at back-to-back-to-back 200-plus (inning) seasons, and you realize this guy is a force to be reckoned with. There’s a reason why we targeted him and a reason why we focused on him as one of our top priorities.
“You’ve got a guy who has made the conversion from reliever to starter and has done that well. There are a lot of innings left in that arm.”
The Giants believe Samardzija’s 2015 numbers may have been partially skewed by the fact that he was pitching for his third team in two seasons, and they have identified mechanical adjustments they can make to a guy who has the tools to be an ace. Samardzija, a former football star at Notre Dame, is listed at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, throwing a fastball that averaged 94.3 mph last season and topped out at 97.9. The Giants believe they can harness that kind of electric stuff, and they have one of the best pitching coaches in the game in Dave Righetti.
The main reason the Giants believe in Samardzija could have nothing to do with the right-hander himself. A year ago, Samardjiza pitched in front of the worst defense in MLB, according to advanced statistics compiled by FanGraphs.com. Now he’ll pitch in front of Brandon Crawford, Matt Duffy, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt and the rest of the best statistical defense in the National League. For a pitcher who got grounders 50 percent of the time in his best season, that switch should provide a major boost.
Samardzija also goes from a team that non-tendered its catcher and overhauled the position to one that has a Gold Glove finalist, Buster Posey, behind the plate.
The Giants made Samarzjiza a priority when the offseason started, pushing hard from the start of November. He was one of three pitchers to visit San Francisco last month, along with Jordan Zimmermann and Zack Greinke. Once the other two went off the board, the Giants wasted little time locking up their new No. 2.
Samardzija got the same five-year, $90 million deal Hunter Pence signed in 2013. The deal includes a $9 million signing bonus, with $3 million paid upfront and the rest spread out. Essentially, he’ll make $12 million in 2016 and $19.5 million each of the next four seasons. Samardzija also got a limited no-trade clause that allows him to pick eight teams each season that he can be traded to.
The Giants have now spent $165 million this offseason on Samardzija and Crawford, and they’re not done. They’re still looking to add another starting pitcher and touched base with Mike Leake on Saturday, but Leake likely will find a better deal elsewhere. The Giants don’t seem inclined to give the Samardzija deal to another pitcher this winter, and Evans will scour the trade market. He now has the luxury of waiting for the price to come down on other free agents, knowing that if Samardzija is the only pitching addition, the Giants still have Chris Heston and Clayton Blackburn available for the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
“As the market has unfolded over the last 10 days, it’s been helpful to put a significant piece into our rotation,” Evans said. “It is refreshing, especially again given the relative priority that our pitching staff requires.”
The Giants will also look for left field help, and there are plenty of options still available for a team that’s all-in on 2016. The Samardzija move costs the Giants their first-round pick since he turned down a qualifying offer from the White Sox.
“There are a number of different directions that we can move,” Evans said. “I don’t necessarily want to project our next move to be any one thing. I think pitching is still a possibility, as are other moves. We’re going to keep our eyes on multiple targets from a trade and creative perspective. Time will tell, but we’re open-minded about it.”
The one move that didn’t happen came Friday, when the Arizona Diamondbacks shocked the baseball world by giving Greinke a $206 million deal. It was thought that the Giants and Dodgers were the last teams remaining as Greinke approached a decision. Evans said the Diamondbacks got an “excellent starter” and a “top-end of the rotation” guy.
“They went to great lengths to get him,” Evans said. “They’ll benefit from his experience and his consistency and, really, a guy that’s a difference maker.”
Did the Giants at least consider it a victory that Greinke left the Dodgers?
“The reality is we’re still going to face him the same number of times,” Evans said. “Victory would have been the American League … or Japan.”