Jeff Samardzija: What Could Have Been

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Jul 6, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics pitcher Jeff Samardzija (29) reacts after the Athletics turned a double play against the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

In a different time or place, Jeff Samardzija could have been one of the great Oakland Athletics.

The resemblance to Dennis Eckersley is uncanny. The long hair. The mustache. Even down to the near-crouch in their delivery as they explode toward the plate.

A top-of-the-rotation caliber starter, Eck racked up wins and lofty innings totals, forcing him to become a relief pitcher when he came to Oakland in 1987.

That didn’t prevent him from being an ace, however.

Jul 19, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics former pitcher Dennis Eckersley takes the field during the celebration of the 1989 Oakland Athletics World Series Champions before the game against Baltimore Orioles at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Eck rode that devastating slider and signature fist pump to four all-star selections, four top-6 MVP finishes, four top-6 Cy Young award finishes, the 1988 ALCS MVP and AL Rolaids Relief Man award, and the 1992 AL MVP and Cy Young awards. Not to mention appearing in three-straight World Series with the A’s, including the 1989 sweep of the rival San Francisco Giants.

He was elected into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004.

Eckersley, in Oakland, will forever be a man who needs no introduction.

Had Samardzija been and Athletic during a time when the team was willing to invest long-term in players I believe he had the look, personality, and skill to become an all-time great Oakland A.

“Given the opportunity to play in Oakland for an extended period of time, Samardzija could have been a great rotation-mate to pair with Sonny Gray for the foreseeable future.”

If the A’s were to offer a long-term deal to any of the players on their roster in 2014, I would have wanted Samardzija to be the one.

In an era when pitching is king, Samardzija has front-line stuff. And because he spent the first  three-and-a-half years as a reliever, at age 29 Shark has only thrown 12,566 pitches in seven MLB seasons.

To put that into perspective, David Price, also 29, has thrown 19,336 pitches in seven MLB seasons. The difference comes out to roughly two whole big-league seasons as a starting pitcher.

That means Samardzija could potentially stave off regression until age 36? 37?

Imagine what he could do, as a fly ball-pitcher, in the Coliseum for five or six years.

Given the opportunity to play in Oakland for an extended period of time, Samardzija could have been a great rotation-mate to pair with Sonny Gray for the foreseeable future.

Still, it is not fair to compare him to Eck.

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They served two different roles and come from two different places.

Eckersley, a Bay Area native, went to Washington High School in Fremont, Calif. and has a field named after him there.

Samardzija certainly doesn’t have the same ties to the Bay as Eck does. But in his new city, he those ties exist.

Merrillville, Ind., Samardzija’s hometown, is less than 60 miles from Chicago, where he will now pitch for the White Sox. He played college football for the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., which is less than 100 miles from Chicago, and began his baseball career pitching for the Chicago Cubs.

Even though he is only under contract for one year, the White Sox have plans to extend his stay.

That would be a good move on their part.

Last week Samardzija was introduced by the White Sox, along with new closer David Robertson and left fielder Melky Cabrera.

Although Shark is swimming in more familiar waters, I’ll always wonder what could have been.

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