You may have missed the real fireworks if you were watching stuff explode in the sky last night. The Cubs and A’s pulled off a massive, huge, franchise-defining trade that warranted a few oohs and ahhs… from me, frantically refreshing Twitter as I rode a crowded train. (I bet I looked pretty cool!)
SP Jeff Samardzija
SP Jason Hammel
SS Addison Russell
OF Billy McKinney
SP Dan Straily
One player to be named later
The first thing worth addressing here is holy hell, Oakland. The A’s are now de facto World Series favorites after shoring up the only relative weak spot on their roster with Hammel and Samardzija, who will immediately slot in among Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, and Jesse Chavez to form the best starting five in baseball (the five of them own a combined 9.2 WAR on the year). Hammel, who the Cubs brilliantly signed to a one-year, $6 million deal this season, will likely serve as a half-season rental. Samardzija is under contract through the 2015 season, but considering turned down a 5-year, $85 million offer from the Cubs, it’s unlikely to project he’ll remain with Oakland long term.
Still, for a team with considerable offensive talent and a legitimate 2-year championship window, this is a hell of a move.
For a fantasy baseball sidenote, consider Samardzija and Hammel slightly more valuable going forward. The pitcher friendly confines (Friendly Confines! See what I did there?!) of O.co Coliseum and the A’s’ talent-laden lineup should earn both of them a few extra wins, the flawed counting stat Samardzija has likely grown to loathe.
Ok, now for the fun part. This trade immediately has the feel of a franchise-definer, but that doesn’t mean one side is a winner and the other is a loser. It’s entirely possible – hell, maybe even likely – that Samardzija and Hammel propel Oakland to a World Series victory. Whether that happens or not, one thing is certain: the Cubs just got a HAUL.
Addison Russell is clearly the player who drove this deal. Depending on who you ask, Russell is no worse than a top-12 prospect in all of baseball (Scout.com had him at #4 entering the season). There are plenty of scouting reports on Russell, so for the sake of brevity, I’ll just leave a nice, quick one here for ya.
“he’s barry larkin … with power.” — scout on addison russell. yes, i liked cubs deal (& a’s too). http://t.co/nKdwNgYJnR
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) July 5, 2014
I’LL TAKE IT!
By other accounts, Russell is perhaps the most complete piece in the Cubs’ already impressive farm system, and one that pushes them over the edge to hold the title of best minor league system, period. With top-100 guys like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, CJ Edwards and now Russell, it’s damn near impossible to argue they’re not the owners of the game’s premier pool of young talent.
Now, I’m certain there were a few eye rolls at that last paragraph. Sure, the Cubs have a ridiculous wealth of positional talent, but where’s the pitching going to come from? Of the Cubs’ 6 or 7 elite young talents, only CJ Edwards makes his living as a pitcher.
There are several reasons not to panic. The Cubs’ front office has done an incredible job identifying what I like to call “scrap heap” pitching talent. Hammel, as mentioned, was signed for just $6 million this season. Jake Arrieta was acquired for a 3-month rental of Scott Feldman(!), and Pedro Strop came with him. Travis Wood was had for the perpetually injured Sean Marshall. Paul Maholm was signed to a Hammel-type deal and flipped for prospects a-la Feldman in 2012. The point being – Theo Epstein and company are adept at finding quality starting pitching on the cheap, even if there have been some misses, like Edwin Jackson and Chris Volstad.
Alternatively, if the Cubs decide they want to pursue a frontline starter via trade, they have ample prospects to do so. With a logjam of middle infield prospects – not exactly a dime-a-dozen type of asset to have – it’s within the realm of possibility that the Cubs could move Starlin Castro, Baez or Russell for an ace at some point within the next few years.
Ok, we’re a bit sidetracked here. Let’s take a look at the other pieces the Cubs landed last night. Billy McKinney is a left-handed outfielder who was taken 24th overall in last year’s draft. His hit tool is impressive, but there are questions on his speed as it projects to center field and his power in regards to a corner OF spot. Playing high-A ball this year, McKinney is slashing .221/.330/.400. He’ll report to high-A Daytona with the Cubs and play a corner OF spot (the Daytona Cubs already have Albert Almora patrolling center).
Finally, Dan Straily is the one major leaguer acquired by the Cubs in this deal. He’s had an up-and-down major league career thus far, carrying a 4.11 ERA an 4.73 FIP, but he’s only 25 and easily has #4 starter-type stuff. He’ll immediately take one of the open slots in the Cubs’ rotation and could have some sneaky fantasy appeal due to his propensity for missing bats.
Maybe I’m an eternal optimist, but I see this trade paying off for both sides. Billy Beane might be kicking himself in a few years if Addison Russell cements himself as an all-star infielder, but if Oakland wins it all this year or next, none of that will matter.
Follow Sean on Twitter @the_graw