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Levine: Jeff Samardzija Still Likely To Test Free-Agent Market

By Bruce Levine-

(CBS) Rewind to last spring when the Chicago Cubs offered right-hander Jeff Samardzija $85 million over five years to forgo his pending free-agent status that was 15 months away.

Now, $17 million a year isn't chump change. Despite that generous offer, just five months later, the price for a top-of-the-rotation pitcher went up to $26 million per season (Jon Lester at six years and $155 million). One month later, the it went up to $30 million a season (Max Scherzer at seven years and $210 million).

Samardzija's agent, Mark Rodgers, was a guest on MLB Network Radio with Jim Bowden on Sunday, talking mostly about Rodgers client Russell Wilson and his baseball future. The subject turned to the 30-year-old Samardzija and whether the White Sox will have a chance to sign re-sign him to a long-term deal. He can become a free agent in nine months.

Rodgers left the door open for White Sox general maanger Rick Hahn to converse on the subject of an extension. The act of being open to conversations is what agents do. In this case, I don't expect anything to get done before next fall. It would only be prudent of both the player and the team to watch how the 2015 season plays out. Most insiders believe that with a good offense and at least an average defense behind him, Samardzija will become a consistent 17-to-20-game winner.

The win/loss record hasn't been there for the 2014 All-Star before, despite outstanding metrics in support of his credentials. Most baseball scouts who have watched Samardzija mature are high on him.

"He has taken his pitching to another level in my eyes," an American League scout said. "His strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.7-to-1) tells you a lot about his growth from thrower to pitcher. Give me this young man on a good club, and I think you will see the wins pile up."

The White Sox will certainly try to retain Samardzija. Along with ace Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, he gives Chicago a terrific starting trio going into 2015. Hahn has astutely signed Sale and Quintana to club- and dollar-friendly deals before their arbitration years begin. In this case, with Samardzija being so close to free agency, the market price on a five- or six-year deal will be high.

White Sox fans should know Samardzija would love nothing more than to pitch for his boyhood team for the next five years. I will tell you winning -- and not the largest contract -- is priority No. 1 for him. All of that being considered, there won't be a hometown discount if/when Samardzija becomes a free agent.

You should expect Samardzija to tell the media his concentration will be on baseball and not a long-term contract when White Sox pitchers and catchers report to Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 20. Also expect Samardzija to say he's done talking about his pending free agency until after the 2015 campaign. That you can take to the bank.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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