The first blockbuster trade of the deadline season came as a surprise, and it’s a good bet no subsequent deal this year will be quite so bold. On Independence Day, the Cubs and Athletics swung a five-player deal with Chicago sending righthanders Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. The trade was first reported by Fox Sports, and industry sources have confirmed it to Baseball America. Chicago acquired shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney and righthander Dan Straily in return.
The deal makes the A’s even bigger favorites in the American League West, which they have won the last two seasons, and gives the Cubs an enviable surplus of minor league infield talent.
Oakland had not drafted a high school position player in the first round since 1996 (Eric Chavez) before it picked Russell in 2012. Then the A’s went back-to-back on first-round high school bats by drafting McKinney the following year. Going for high-upside high school players has paid off for Oakland, as the pair’s development allowed them to swing a deal for two of the top pitchers on the trade market.
With the trade, the Cubs will have the No. 2 (Kris Bryant), No. 5 (Addison Russell) and No. 7 (Javier Baez) prospects in the game, as ranked in the upcoming Baseball America midseason top 50, which went to press Thursday. They also have a massive traffic jam of big league and nearly big league-ready infielders, all of whom have significant offensive potential.
Current Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is having a resurgent year, is still just 24 years old and is signed to a long-term deal through 2019 with a team option for 2020. Both Russell and Baez are currently shortstops as well. Scouts consider Russell the better defender of the two, and Baez played second base briefly in spring training but has played exclusively at short at Triple-A Iowa. Moving either shortstop to third base is not an option thanks to Bryant, who has wowed scouts with his defensive tools and skills this season.
And that’s not even considering second baseman Arismendy Alcantara, who is hitting .312/.352/.549 with 11 triples, 10 home runs and 20 steals at Iowa. Alcantara is playing some center field as well (and can play shortstop if needed) adding needed versatility. While the Cubs could figure out a way to get all of these athletes who can hit into the future big league lineup, it’s just as likely that Chicago isn’t done dealing. While the organization has the best collection of position prospects in the game, it needs both impact arms and pitching depth, especially after dealing away its homegrown ace.
Jeff Samardzija, rhp
Service Time (Preseason): 4.028 years. Eligible for free agency after 2015 season.
The Cubs had to be patient with Samardzija, a fifth-round pick in 2006 who received a $10 million, five-year contract six months after being drafted to give up football after a two-sport career at Notre Dame. He didn’t fully establish himself in Chicago’s rotation until 2012. This year, he had emerged as the club’s ace, as his ERA, WHIP, hit rate and walk rate are all on pace to be career bests. He has 497 strikeouts in 496 innings since becoming a full-time starter in 2012.
Jason Hammel, rhp
Service Time: 6.153 years. Signed through 2014.
The Cubs signed Hammel to a one-year, $6 million contract in the offseason. He’s responded by returning to the form he showed in Baltimore in 2012, making him a valuable trade chip, but also one that Chicago could comfortably move since he will be a free agent at the end of the season. With the addition of Hammel, the A’s now have enviable starting pitching depth, as he likely bumps Tommy Milone to a long-relief role. The trade also helps fill the void created by Drew Pomeranz‘s broken non-pitching hand, an injury he suffered when he punched a chair.
Addison Russell, ss
The No. 5 prospect in the upcoming Baseball America midseason top 50 prospects list, Russell is one of the best shortstops and best all-around prospects in the game. He joins a crowded Cubs’ shortstop situation with Castro entrenched in Chicago and Baez (the No. 7 prospect in the game) playing shortstop in Triple-A. Unless one of the two is moved in a trade, Russell likely will force an eventual move for Baez, for he’s a better defender at shortstop. Either Russell or Baez have the bat to move to other positions.
Russell has strength and explosive bat speed, and scouts project him as an above-average hitter with at least average power. His athletic ability, arm strength and quickness all suit him well to the middle of the diamond. He missed most of the first half of the season with a hamstring injury, but he returned to action June 8 and has spent the season at Double-A Midland.
Billy McKinney, of
The Athletics signed McKinney for $1.8 million last year, when he was the 24th overall pick, then aggressively pushed him to high Class A Stockton, skipping him over the Midwest League. He’s struggled (.241/.330/.400) as a result, but he has been demonstrating his power potential while playing a solid center field. While his numbers are Stockton are modest, he hasn’t been overmatched, as evidenced by his solid strikeout-to-walk ratio and his developing power (10 home runs in 290 at-bats). With the Cubs, McKinney could fit best in left field, as the club has 2012 first-rounder Albert Almora at center field in high Class A Daytona, with Alcantara playing some center in Iowa.
Dan Straily, rhp
Service Time: 1.031 years. Not eligible for arbitration until 2016 at the earliest.
Straily was one of the breakout prospects of 2012 as he led the minors in strikeouts, jumped three levels and finished the season in Oakland. He spent almost all of 2013 in the Oakland rotation and earned Rookie of the Year votes. He lost his spot in the rotation this May as his results and his stuff both backed up. This year, Straily’s fastball has averaged 88 mph, well off the 91 mph he averaged when he first reached the big leagues. The righthander didn’t have much velocity to lose, so the Cubs will have to see if this is a momentary blip or a sign that his stuff has taken a long-term step back. He told MLB Network Radio that he would report to Triple-A Iowa to begin his time with his new organization.