SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The San Francisco Giants knew they were acquiring a hardcore competitor and a 200-inning workhorse when they signed free-agent righty Jeff Samardzija to a five-year, $90 million contract in December.
They might not have realized that a baby shark was part of the equation.
Samardzija lives in suburban Phoenix in the offseason, and last Saturday in Scottsdale, his wife, Andrea, gave birth to a seven-pound, nine-ounce boy named Luca Joseph. In the days preceding the Giants' first official workout at Scottsdale Stadium, Samardzija (aka "Shark") spent most of his waking hours reveling in the joys of first-time fatherhood.
"I'm on the night shift," Samardzija said Thursday. "I let my wife sleep, and I pick him up and [hold] him a little bit until he's ready to eat. It's pretty simple, man. They eat, they sleep and they go to the bathroom.
"He's cool, man. He just sits there smiling with this blank look on his face. Everyone keeps telling me that before you know it, they're walking -- and then you're chasing them. So while he's immobile, I'm trying to get as much close time as I can."
The Giants' camp has more of a close-knit, family vibe than a lot of places, and that's a tribute to the continuity in the front office, the dugout and the clubhouse. Brian Sabean was the Giants' general manager from 1997 to 2015 before moving upstairs to an executive VP job a year ago. Bruce Bochy has the second-longest managerial tenure with his current club behind Mike Scioscia of the Los Angeles Angels. And Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Matt Cain are among the homegrown players who have contributed to a no-frills, respectful, professional culture in San Francisco.
Any time the Giants inject a prominent new face into the dynamic, it's noteworthy, and the big story this spring is the arrival of Samardzija and fellow free agent Johnny Cueto, who will try to re-establish San Francisco's starting pitching chops in a highly competitive National League West.
The Giants, as everybody knows, are even-year world beaters, with titles to their credit in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and playoff-free finishes in 2011, 2013 and 2015. Last year, San Francisco's starting rotation ranked seventh in the NL with a 3.95 ERA and a .715 OPS against on the way to an 84-78 finish, and the offseason brought change. Tim Hudson retired, while Tim Lincecum hit the free-agent market intent on showing he can come back from September hip surgery. With glaring holes on the horizon, the Giants went out and signed Samardzija, then invested $130 million in a six-year deal for Cueto.
While the new guys settle in at San Francisco's camp, Cain is trying to regain his old form after being limited to 151 innings over the past two seasons because of elbow problems, and Jake Peavy will try to show he can stay healthy at age 35 after missing 2½ months with back and hip problems last year. But the Giants have a lot of faith in pitching coach Dave Righetti's ability to maximize the team's resources, so the outlook in camp is predictably positive.
Bochy, who is not inclined to grand pronouncements, agreed with one reporter's observation that San Francisco's 2016 rotation has a chance to be the strongest 1-through-5 contingent since he took over as manager in 2007. Chris Heston, who contributed 12 wins, 177 2/3 innings and a no-hitter as a rookie, provides depth as a No. 6 starter and swing man.
"I can't think, in all my years, where we were this solid," Bochy said. "And that's saying a lot, because we've had some very good rotations here. But when you add two guys like this, they make you that much better."
Cueto was loose and chatty in a dugout media session with team translator Erwin Higueros on Thursday. He revealed that he had already added orange highlights to his dreadlocks before he signed with San Francisco (so it was simply a coincidence and not some kind of personal statement), and let out a hearty laugh when asked if he's hoping to ride one of the horses that teammate Madison Bumgarner brought to Arizona from his North Carolina ranch this spring.
"We'll see if he sells me one or gives me one for free," said Cueto, who owns at least 15 horses back home in the Dominican Republic.
The 2015 season was a mixed bag for Cueto. He contributed two stellar postseason outings with Kansas City and won a World Series ring after a July trade from Cincinnati. But some questions arose about the state of his elbow, and -- thanks to some assorted struggles on the road -- his ability to perform in hostile environments. To justify the Giants' big expenditure, Cueto needs to regain the form that helped him go 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA and finish second to Clayton Kershaw in the 2014 NL Cy Young race.
Samardzija is coming off a considerably rougher 2015. He led the majors with 122 runs and 228 hits allowed last season, while giving up 29 homers in 214 innings. He carried his disappointment into the winter and has channeled that energy into some vigorous workouts with Giants strength and conditioning coach Carl Kochan.
"It's a crazy thing," Samardzija said. "When you go through a year like I did last year, you really get to look at yourself. For me personally, as a competitor, it sticks with you and sits in your gut. To this day, I take it with me as energy and motivation to try to improve. I haven't felt this good in a long, long time."
A couple of days into camp, Samardzija revealed that he's already feeling right at home in a Giants uniform. It's all about the pitching now. He has plenty of time to catch up on his sleep.