Two big deals make White Sox contenders again; will Cubs follow suit? | Bleader

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Two big deals make White Sox contenders again; will Cubs follow suit?

Posted By on 12.09.14 at 11:21 AM

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Jeff Samardzija took the long way from Clark and Addison to 35th and Shields, transferring in Oakland.
  • AP Photo/Eric Risberg
  • Jeff Samardzija took the long way from Clark and Addison to 35th and Shields, transferring in Oakland.
Happy days are here again for White Sox fans. In barely the time it would take Adam Dunn to whiff, the south-siders soared into contention again last night, signing closer David Robertson and trading for starter Jeff Samardzija.

Robertson, a free agent, had replaced Mariano Rivera as Yankees closer last season, and saved 39 games. Jake Petricka led the south-siders' pen last season with 14 saves.

The 29-year-old Robertson has a wicked knuckle-curve and a fine cutting fastball. His career ERA is 2.81, and he's fanned 524 in 393 innings. A November scouting report by Baseball Prospectus raved about his poise and mechanics and predicted he'd excel as a closer into his mid-30s. He'll get $46 million over four years from the Sox—$10 million less than the team paid Dunn for his four years.

Samardzija, also 29, had an ERA of 2.99 last season, which he began with the Cubs and ended with the Oakland A's. He fanned 202 and walked only 43. The Sox traded youth for the "Shark": 24-year-old second baseman Marcus Semien, who hit only .234 for the team last year and struggled in the field; Chris Bassitt, 25, who has pitched well in the minors; and a third player not yet named but believed to be a low-level prospect. The main downside for the Sox is that Samardzija is a year away from free agency.

In April 2013, an appraisal on mlbscoutingreports.com lauded Samardzija's "explosive stuff and great confidence" and predicted he'd be a perennial all-star who "could contend for Cy Young awards."

He was an all-star last year, despite an almost comic lack of support from his north-side teammates. Through his first eight starts, the Shark's ERA was 1.45—yet he was 0-3, with five no decisions. "Samardzija certainly deserves a better fate, which is to say a better team," I wrote last May. Now he's on one.

David Robertson shined when he succeeded Mariano Rivera, but can he handle the pressure of replacing Jake Petricka?
  • AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
  • David Robertson shined when he succeeded Mariano Rivera, but can he handle the pressure of replacing Jake Petricka?

The White Sox had improved even before last night, having signed lefty slugger Adam LaRoche and southpaw reliever Zach Duke in November. They have one of the best hitters in the game, Jose Abreu—last season's rookie of the year—and one of the best pitchers in Chris Sale. Now, with last night's acquisitions, they've slammed the door on the bleak Dunn era, during which the team went 300-348 and attendance dropped every season.

The fireworks on the south side put pressure on the Cubs to make some noise of their own. In early November, the north-siders hired the acclaimed Joe Maddon to manage, but the team has done little to improve its roster. Yesterday, though, the team signed 32-year-old free-agent starter Jason Hammel, who they'd traded to the A's with Samardzija in July. And the Cubs are finalists in the derby for prize free agent southpaw Jon Lester, who's expected to announce his choice today.

If the Cubs get him, it should be a thrilling summer for fans on both sides of town. Finally.

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