The Oakland A’s are considered by many to be favorites to contend for the World Series title in the American League but their acquisition of starting pitcher, Jeff Samardzija from Chicago may make the difference between another early exit in the playoffs and a deep run into October.
Oakland’s pitching staff was already one of the league’s best despite lacking a bonafide ace but the six-foot-five right-hander is capable of filling big shoes. Samardzija has a 2.83 ERA in 17 starts for Chicago this season but a lack of offensive support has resulted in only two wins for the right-hander.
It’s safe to say he won’t have that problem playing in Oakland. The A’s lead the league in runs with 429, managing to outscore their opponents by 129 runs.
Most importantly, the addition of Samardzija will take a load of pressure off both Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray, who have carried the A’s starting rotation up to this point. Gray leads the team in innings pitched and strikeouts, while Kazmir’s 9 wins is best on the club. With the trio of Samardzija, Kazmir and Gray the Oakland A’s now have their best starting rotation since the days of Zito, Mulder and Hudson.
Included in the deal with Samardzija was starting pitcher Jason Hammel, who is having a career year. Hammel is 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA and he is on pace to record just over 200 innings pitched in 2014.
In return for Samardzija and Hammels, the A’s sent several of their top prospects to Chicago, including their 2012 first-round pick Addison Russell, who is the third rated prospect on ESPN Insider Keith Law’s top 100 list.
While prospects are key in any team’s future, the opportunity to win now should not be taken for granted, especially when there is no guarantee the A’s will be in such a good position to compete for a World Series title in the future.
By trading top prospects and potentially compromising the future for the present, Oakland’s general manager Billy Beane has made it clear to the team that the front office is ready to win and they are ready to win now. With all the pieces now in place for a playoff run it is now on the team to fulfill their end of the bargain.
The only potential weak spot for the Oakland A’s going forward is the back end of their bullpen.
Offseason acquisition Jim Johnson has been a major disappointment for the club so far this season and since his demotion he has yet to find a steady roll within the Oakland bullpen. After notching 101 saves with Baltimore the past two seasons, Johnson has only recorded 2 saves for the A’s in 2014, while posting an ERA of nearly six.
Johnson’s replacement at closer, Sean Doolittle has turned out to be more than a pleasant surprise for the A’s, recording 12 saves with a ridiculous 60:2 strike-out-to-walk ratio but it appears it may have been only a temporary fix. Doolittle has struggled as of late, blowing two consecutive saves, most notably the walk-off grand-slam surrendered to the Tiger’s Rajai Davis. Doolittle appears to have bounced back though, with solid outings in his last two appearances.
While it is still too early to give up on both Doolittle and Johnson, the A’s must have a back up plan if they both struggle going forward. Jonathon Papelbon, Joaquin Benoit and former Oakland closer Huston Street could be potential options pursued by the front office to solidify the back end of the bullpen.
The acquisition of Samardzija and Hammels proves that the Oakland A’s front office is all in to win it in 2014, now it’s just a matter of players living up to their end of the deal.