The Chicago Cubs have traded their top two trade chips, which many people expected going into July. They have reportedly dealt starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics. In return they received shortstop Addison Russell, starting pitcher Dan Straily, and outfielder Billy McKinney (more on these guys in a bit). Some reports also add a “player to be named later” going from Oakland to Chicago, including ESPN’s Keith Law.
Cubs/A's deal official. Samardzija and Hammel for Russell, McKinney, Straily, PTBNL. Analysis to follow on ESPN Insider.
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) July 5, 2014
Samardzija has been considered by many to be the best starting pitcher on the trade market not named David Price. He started off this season pitching extremely well, even though his record didn’t reflect that. Hammel, who signed a one-year deal right before spring training, has been pitching very well himself and was also thought to be a very valuable trade target. The fact that Oakland made this deal really shows how much they want to win this year.
Dan Straily fits the profile that most people figured the Cubs would be targeting: he is a young starting pitcher who is major league ready. After a fairly decent season last year, Straily has struggled in 2014 splitting time between Triple-A and the majors. In his seven major league starts his ERA sits a little below 5.00 and has allowed just over two homers per nine innings. His scenario is very comparable to Jake Arrieta’s situation when the Cubs traded for him last year. Let’s see if Chris Bosio can help Straily straighten things out as well.
Addison Russell entered the 2014 season ranked in the top 15 on numerous prospect lists. He suffered a grade 3 hamstring tear in April, but he seems to be playing just fine. So far in Double-A he has a .333 batting average with a .439 OBP. Unless he encounters a major regression, he will likely become one of the top 10 prospects by the start of the 2015 campaign. That would mean that the Cubs would have Russell, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant (for sure) at the top of most prospect lists as long as they all maintain their prospect status.
Billy McKinney was drafted in the first round by Oakland last season, and was listed as their organization’s second best prospect (look straight above to see who was number one*). He played in the Rookie League and in Low-A last year, and hit for a combined .326 average. His numbers have taken a step back so far this season in High-A, but at 19 years old this kid has plenty of time to work on his skills.
The Cubs traded away two of their best starting pitchers. Typical. This is third year in a row that they have traded away two of the pitchers in their rotation. Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm were dealt away in 2012, and 2013 saw the departures of Scott Feldman and Matt Garza. While the Cubs did acquire position players in these deals, the main emphasis appeared to be on building pitching depth. So why would they trade two very good starting pitchers and only get one possible rotation filler in return? Pitching was not the focus of this deal. At least it appears to be that way.
In this article by Joe Posnanski, Epstein has made it clear that he is “trying to build a behemoth of position players” to create an “offensive juggernaut.” Take a look at their minor league system:
- Kris Bryant raked in Double-A to start the year, and has made a pretty quick adjustment to hitting against Triple-A pitching. You won’t see him in Wrigley this season, but he’ll be there before you know it.
- Javier Baez has shown that he has a lot of pop in his bat. After struggling a lot at the beginning of the year, he has started to show much better plate discipline. He is coming along very nicely.
- Arismendy Alcantara has a great combination of contact, power, speed, and being able to adjust to wherever he is placed defensively. Most of his time the last couple years has been at second base, but he has experience playing at shortstop, third base, and has started to play in the outfield as well.
- First round pick from this year’s draft, Kyle Schwarber, has started off his professional career nicely. Many referred to him as being the best hitter in this year’s draft class (much like Bryant last year), and he has definitely come out swinging. Whether he continues to be a catcher or not, his road to Wrigley may not take too long.
The addition of Russell is the most interesting part of this deal. The Cubs already have a “shortstop problem” going on in their system. Starlin Castro is the main road block, and as long as he keeps hitting well he isn’t going to go anywhere. Guys like Junior Lake and Arismendy Alcantara were originally brought up as shortstops but have had to switch positions. And then there is the big bat of Javier Baez, who is likely going to have to change positions as well.
Because Russell has played in Double-A this season, he will likely report to the Tennessee Smokies. And since he is still a level behind Baez he will likely remain at shortstop until a position change becomes imperative for his promotion, very much like what the Cubs have done so far with Baez.
Another intriguing factor is what will happen with the holes that have appeared in the Cubs’ starting rotation. Dan Straily could very well take up one of the spots, but that still leaves one spot left. Carlos Villanueva move back into the starting rotation, especially in the short-term future. Chirs Rusin could be called up to fill a rotation spot, just like he did last year. Or, more interestingly, one of the young pups in Triple-A could get a shot to earn a future role in the rotation. Dallas Beeler made an impressive start just last week against Washington in his major league debut. And there are also guys like Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, or Eric Jokisch who could all get a chance to make their big league debuts. The Chicago Cubs rotation will definitely be something to watch the rest of this year.
It is going to be very interesting to see how this deal plays out for a lot of reasons. Samardzija and Hammel will help bolster Oakland’s starting rotation, and the Cubs have a lot of pieces to play with in both the short- and long-term. Because two of the players the Cubs are getting are only in the High-A and Double-A levels and there is still a PTBNL, we won’t be able to determine the “winner” of this trade for a few years. But as things stand right now, things just got way more interesting in the Chicago Cubs organization.
*Addison Russel and Billy McKinney currently rank as the third and ninth best prospects for the Cubs, according to MLB.com.
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