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White Sox Opening Day: The summer of Samardzija sets sail

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The center of the American League's most active offseason gets the regular season started

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Samardzija will take the mound for the White Sox on Opening Day one hour from now, and there are arguments against bestowing this honor upon him.

Once it became clear that Chris Sale wasn't going to be able to make his third straight season-opening start, Jose Quintana should have been next in line under normal conditions, having outpitched Samardzija over the last two years, and doing so in a White Sox uniform while under one of those very friendly White Sox contracts.

But these aren't ordinary times. The White Sox won the offseason in the American League with one big trade and four high-profile signings, and after years of being an afterthought of an also-ran, a lot more people are going to be watching to see if this boat can float.

And when the Sox finally launch this ship after months of anticipation, of course they're going to do it with their figurehead out front, Van Dyke and flowing mane in all their glory.

Samardzija isn't the most important -- or essential! -- White Sox, but he is the spirit animal of this whole thing. Up until Rick Hahn acquired him for a four-player package, the Sox' moves were rather tentative in isolation.

Adam LaRoche filled a need in the middle of the order, and Zach Duke gave the bullpen a defined top left-handed option, but they were also older players than the Sox had been stockpiling over the previous 18 months, with little upside left to explore and declines to stave off.

The addition of Samardzija, young enough to still be enjoying his peak and in his final arbitration year, truly established how quickly the Sox intended to transform, which would allow them to contend.  That move, followed by the David Robertson signing shortly after, clarified the picture, and not just to fans.

Melky Cabrera was in the same position before the Samardzija trade, appreciating the Sox' interest but uncertain of their ambition. Once Samardzija and Robertson were in the fold, Cabrera became more willing to tag along. That fifth move finally made the 2015 White Sox projectable, but it probably wouldn't have happened without the third.

Unlike Sale, Samardzija isn't getting any preseason Cy Young votes. Unlike Jose Abreu, he's not a popular non-Trout pick for the MVP. Nevertheless, Samardzija makes this particular season different from the others of recent White Sox vintage, especially since the terms of his contract currently limit his obligations to 2015 and 2015 only.

And since the meter's running, it makes every start more crucial. Jon Lester can stumble out of the gates with the Cubs on their Opening Day, but he has six years plus 32 games remaining to make up for it. A similar start to Samardzija's South Side stay will carry the usual small-sample-size implications, but it's not going to feel that way. Glass half full, if he roars out of the dugout and shuts down the Royals for seven innings, the narrative possibilities will be tough to resist.

It would still be the same in the scheme of things if Samardzija started the second game of the season, because 30-plus starts are 30-plus starts. But Opening Day isn't ordinary, and the circumstances surrounding Samardzija are extraordinary, so there's no point in waiting to see what's in store.