So much for an exciting, rumor-filled July in which Twitter trades away the Cubs' best two pitchers about 500 times - on the evening of July 4th, while everyone was out gawking at fireworks and playing "hold my beer" with their friends, the Cubs and A's were hard at work putting together a blockbuster of a trade.
In exchange for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, the Cubs have acquired A's top prospect Addison Russell in addition to outfield prospect Billy McKinney, starting pitcher Dan Straily, and possibly a PTBNL. In doing so, the A's have established themselves as a clear favorite to win the American League, and possibly the favorite to win the World Series. And it's tough to be critical of this deal from the Cubs point of view.
Yes, they traded away both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, two of their best pitchers this season, but that writing has been on the wall since at least mid-May. And in return the Cubs got one hell of a ballplayer.
Addison Russell is by far the biggest piece in this deal for the Cubs. The former 11th overall pick is a stud prospect, ranked top 6 in the midseason lists of both Keith Law and Baseball Prospectus. He is a legitimate defensive shortstop who could stick there forever, and he's got more than enough bat for the position. He has a good feel for the strike zone, projects to hit for average, and has enough power to threaten 20 homers every year.
Together, his glove and bat make him a marquee prospect and a huge get for the Cubs. Perhaps most importantly, Russell is in AA right now despite being only 20 years old, and is advanced enough where some expected him to finish the season in Oakland. We certainly won't see him in Chicago this September for about three hundred reasons, but he could be a valuable part of the big league club very soon.
The other two players in this deal are less sexy by orders of magnitude, but that doesn't mean they're not interesting. Dan Straily pitched well in Oakland's rotation last season, but has been in AAA for most of this season. Straily is a 4th starter type with a chance to log innings and strike out 7-8 batters per nine. His 89-90 fastball, changeup, and slider mix is prone to a lot of home runs, something I'm really hoping Chris Bosio can work out of him.
Billy McKinney was Oakland's 1st round pick in 2013, and is still just 19 years old. He's a bat-only prospect, as he projects to play left field, but the bat has a chance to be very good. Most evaluators have given him an above-average or better grade on his hit tool, and some seem to think he could hit 20 or more home runs a year at maturity. That's no world beater, but he's got the ceiling of a first-division regular.
It isn't often that you see two of the top pitching targets get traded in the same deal, but that's what happened tonight. There are probably a few reasons for this, but these are the biggest ones I see:
First off, this lets the Cubs jump the starting pitcher trade market. Not to talk about fantasy baseball here, but in dynasty leagues the first team to sell usually has the pick of the litter when it comes to trade partners, and gets a very good deal as a result. The same holds true in real baseball, where the Cubs were the first team with good pieces who has really gone all-in on the Seller label.
Boston, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland all have attractive starting pitching options they could make available should they consider themselves truly out of it, and the longer the Cubs waited the more likely that would become. By selling now, the Cubs could demand a really large package in return for their starters, and they got that.
Most importantly, the Cubs were able to get an elite-level prospect in return. To put it in perspective - they got a prospect ranked right around where Kris Bryant and Javier Baez are ranked. That's big time. If they had waited for a flooded sellers market, they're far less likely to get that one elite guy.
And that one elite guy is important to get. The Cubs have a very strong farm system with very few weaknesses, so a package of 3-4 good prospects doesn't do them a whole lot of good. To invoke a football philosophy of mine: when you're coming off a strong season, don't trade down in the draft and pick a bunch of players, trade up and find the one or two guys who could really put your team over the top. I feel the same way about this Cubs organization.
A bunch of top 50-100 prospects could be nice, but they're lost in the noise that is the Cubs system; they don't have the same future value or trade value as one top 5 guy.
And, therefore, what this trade signals to me is that the Cubs are going to be pushing for contention very, very soon. Their bullpen is ready to compete right now, their first baseman and shortstop are all-star caliber players, and they have the (bottom) 3/5 of a good starting rotation. This offseason, guys like Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Justin Masterson, and James Shields are all free agents, and the Cubs will have the money (per the fact 2014 payroll is about $50 million and per
CubsInsider Patriarch Tom Loxas' report that they are ready to spend to go after at least one, if not two of those pitchers. They also have the prospect currency to trade for a big piece of the rotation or outfield. And when you factor in a set of near-ready infield prospects in Bryant, Russell, Baez, and Alcantara, this team could have an explosive offense within the next few years.
Russell is a key piece of making that vision a reality. Whether he's traded in another blockbuster deal or gives the Cubs flexibility to trade someone else away in a blockbuster deal, he's at the center of the Cubs' future.
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