Samardzija keeping his eye on Chicago

Jeff Samardzija chats with former Cubs GM Jim Hendry before Monday's game at U.S. Cellular Field. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

CHICAGO – The smell of home was in the air Monday for Jeff Samardzija, leaving a strong hint that when he reaches free agency after the 2015 season, he could have an interest in returning to Chicago.

Both the Cubs and White Sox could be in the market for starting pitching help at that point, and if either team calls, the Oakland Athletics right-hander sounds as if he would be more than willing to listen.

Samardzija, a native of northern Indiana, has pitched well at U.S. Cellular Field in the past (and he's due to start there Wednesday night). And he obviously also has his history with the Cubs, where he transitioned from reliever to staff ace before he was traded to the American League on July 5.

Samardzija can’t pitch any closer to his roots than he does when he is in the White Sox’s home ballpark, and that is part of the reason he has given up just one earned run in 12 innings on the South Side.

“It’s just so close to home,” Samardzija said Monday as his A’s were set to begin a four-game series against the White Sox. “You go out and step in the outfield to shag, or pitching, or whatever you’re doing outside, you take a deep breath and it smells like I’m on the Valparaiso High School field playing.

“There is just a comfort level to being in this area. I always have to show up well because I have a lot of people in the stands that are here expecting a lot of me.”

There is a chance the Cubs could come calling, too, although the 29-year-old still has one more year of arbitration eligibility before becoming a free agent. The Cubs not only helped Samardzija make his transition into a quality starter, they know what makes him tick. And as the team’s young offensive prospects have started to arrive in the likes of Javier Baez and Jorge Soler, Samardzija said he is impressed with what he sees.

“Yeah, obviously I enjoyed the talent coming up for sure,” Samardzija said. “Obviously you see how they develop as a team and that’s the most important thing. Coming over here [to the A’s] you see how these guys are playing together and they have been doing it for a while, what makes them successful as a winning team. Those are important things.

“Home runs are great and natural talent, but you have to piece it all together and become a team and that’s the most important thing. In this game, numbers and talent are important, but a lot of times it’s how the unit plays as a whole and how you pitch. Those are the two important things.”

Samardzija had the opportunity to lock in a deal with the Cubs, but both sides failed to agree on the pitcher’s value. At that point, his eventual trade was inevitable.

Samardzija doesn’t seem to have any hard feelings about how things turned out.

“Yeah, that is absolutely something that is on my list; I love it here,” Samardzija said about a return to Chicago. “I’ve spent my whole life here and even to come back is exciting -- to see the same sights coming in from the airport and staying downtown. It brings back a lot of memories. It goes fast, so it seems like it was a long time ago, but for sure that’ll definitely be something that’s on my list. It’ll be an exciting time. But like I said, there’s still a lot of work to be done to get to that spot.”

For now, though, it’s Samardzija, the former Notre Dame wide receiver on the same team as Adam Dunn, the former Texas backup quarterback, embracing a playoff chase while enjoying the start to the college football season.

“Midweek when there’s no football on, is usually when, ‘Hey Samardzija, let’s go, man,’” Samardzija said. “[Dunn’s] got his worn-out NFL ball. My routes are getting better and I’m dusting off the old cleats. But Dunner is great. What a great addition to a team, and a guy that’s been there before, hit 1,000 home runs and hopefully he’s got a few more in there for the rest of the way. But we’re really excited to have him. He’s a great guy.”