As I tried to keep my son from blowing off his hand with fireworks while he ran around high on the fact that it was at least a couple hours past his bedtime, the biggest trade of the year went down -- unless David Price is traded, that is. The sounds of fireworks were nearly drowned out by the sounds of my phone's notifications. Twitter, email, text. People wanted me to know that they knew about this deal that I didn't know about. The Oakland Athletics sent one of the top prospects in baseball, Addison Russell, to the Chicago Cubs for one of the best pitchers on the trade market (perhaps the best if Price stays with Tampa) in Jeff Samardzija. Also, Jason Hammel.
It would be easy to start dropping some Fourth of July puns here, but I'm above that. I'm above saying something like "the Cubs and A's launched the biggest firework of the night", or "the A's are hoping to start a revolution in Oakland with a win-now attitude", or "America is Red, White, and Green after the biggest trade of the season." No, I won't do that here. This is a professional media outlet, people.
The first impression for many when this trade went down was "Wait, what?!" The next reaction was, "Man, the A's are going for it." Both are apt observations of a trade that not many saw coming. We knew Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were going to be traded. We knew the Cubs weren't looking to build for the now, but for the future. But despite the needs of the Athletics going into the second half of the year, trading away the top prospect in their organization didn't seem to be in the cards. But I like it.
Since 2000, the A's have made the playoffs seven times, and they'll likely make it an eighth time this year. In each of those runs, the A's failed to make the World Series. In fact, in six of the seven years in which they made the postseason, Oakland failed to advance past the Division Series. That wears on a team, its owners, its GM, and its fan base. Winning is great, but it doesn't mean much if the team doesn't seem to be progressing toward something larger. This trade seems to indicate that Oakland is ready to move past just being happy with a playoff appearance.
The A's have the second lowest FIP in the American League at 3.68, so it would seem the acquisition of more pitching would only solidify their place toward the top of the AL. Hammel may be just the extra piece of this deal, the part that allowed the Cubs to get such a highly-rated prospect, but depending on how he adjusts to pitching in Oakland, he should help lower the team's FIP further. In fact, Hammel's 3.16 FIP is not terribly higher than Samardzija's. Combined, they clearly make the A's better, which is scary considering where Oakland sits today.
At 20 games over .500, the A's are currently the best team in baseball by a longshot. Considering the American League as a whole, Oakland's .616 winning percentage sets them up nicely for the rest of the season. The acquisition of Samardzija sets them up nicely for longer than that.
Samardzija is not an elite pitcher, but he comes with one and a half years of team control. He comes with 8.2 fWAR through his first 206 games. Keep in mind he started his career as a reliever and has really only begun his role as a starting pitcher recently. As a starter, Samardzija has actually increased his K/9 rate (8.83 vs 7.93) and lowered his BB/9 rate (3.11 vs. 5.26. In addition, he has a 3.71 FIP as a starter versus a 4.09 FIP as a reliever. As a 29-year old pitcher with team control ahead of him, it's easy to see why the A's might be willing to let go of one of the best prospects in baseball.
Jeff Samardzija trade analysis
The Athletics acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs for Addison Russell and three other players.
Hammel is a half-year rental unless the A's decide he's worth an extension. He's 31 years old and is not nearly the pitcher Samardzija is, but he's not a bad pitcher by any stretch. Hammel has 14.7 career fWAR, and his 2.1 fWAR this year is good enough for ninth among National League pitchers this year. His FIP ranks 13th in the NL as well. Hammel is clearly having one of the best years of his career, so it's important to consider his projections for the rest of the season. ZIPS has him starting 12 more games this year while posting a 3.77 FIP. ZIPS also projects 0.7 fWAR for the rest of the season. The A's will surely take that kind of contribution from their fourth starter in the second half.
Let's not forget about the Cubs, though. They are getting not only Addison Russell, but they will get Billy McKinney, Dan Straily, and a player to be named later. Russell is clearly the big return, ranking fifth on Keith Law's updated prospect ranking this year. He was the ranked the 14th-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America prior to the season and 12th-best by MLB.com. Russell will be a huge loss for the A's and a huge gain for the Cubs. He's already advanced as far as Double-A, so he may not be far from a major league call-up.
McKinney was Oakland's first round selection in the 2013 June Amateur Draft. He has a long way to go before his call-up, but he's a nice piece of this trade for Chicago. Straily, on the other hand, is already a Major League pitcher. He 230 innings under his belt for Oakland. He has started every game he's appeared in since coming up to the Majors. Overall, Straily has a nearly average 93 ERA+ and a 4.73 FIP. His years of team control are probably the most attractive part of Straily in this deal. There's still a lot of time for him develop as he won't become a free agent until 2019.
There's so much more analysis left to be done on this trade from both sides, but this may go down as one where both sides win. In negotiations, the best outcome is one where both sides lose a little bit and gain a little bit. This seems to be exactly the type of outcome Oakland and Chicago got from this deal. Losing Russell is tough for Oakland, but if it means they can make a deep playoff run -- maybe all the way to the World Series -- it was probably the right move. For Chicago, they have been rebuilding for a while now. Russell will surely help them in the near future, and the deal as a whole helps the Cubs come one step closer to moving from rebuilding to competing.
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