Saturday, July 5, 2014

A's for effort

Jason Hammel is having the best season
of his nine-year career so far.
Billy Beane's Oakland A's and the Theo Epstein-led Chicago Cubs each have a plan, and the trade that leaked out Friday night — expected to be completed today — makes those plans quite obvious.

The big trade reportedly will send established starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland in exchange for the A's two top prospects, shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney, plus starter Dan Straily.

Beane is clearly going for it -- it being the World Series title that has eluded the "Moneyball" general manager through two multi-year contention cycles -- and the Cubs intend to construct an imposing lineup with pitching as a lesser priority.

Start with the A's, since it's clear what they're getting. Samardzija is a top flight arm, due for free agency after the 2015 season. Hammel is more of a journeyman; this is his ninth season in the majors, and he has never tossed even 180 innings in a given year. But in this relatively thin mid-season trade market, Hammel was probably no worse than the third-best available starter, behind Samardzija and (probably) David Price of Tampa Bay.

Jeff Samardzija has a won-loss
record of 2-7, but that's no
indication of how well he's
pitched for the Cubs.
Beane adds two starters with ERAs of 2.83 (Samardzija) and 2.98 (Hammel) to a rotation that already has Scott Kazmir (2.61), Sonny Gray (3.08), Jesse Chavez (3.23) and Tommy Milone (3.79). And suddenly the loss of two 2013 stalwarts, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, don't seem to hurt too much.

As for the Cubs, they land yet another budding star shortstop in Russell, who figures to be major-league ready by the end of the year, plus the very young McKinney. for their rebuilding project. Even Straily, who has worked 230 innings for the A's, is only 25.

I do wonder, a little, how the Cubs will deal with all these shortstops. They have Starlin Castro, with two All-Star games on his resume, at the position now, and he just turned 24. Russell and Javier Baez are both in the high minors; a position switch for Baez has been rumored for a while, but Kris Bryant would seem to have an inside track on third base.

Russell, Bryant and Baez are all consensus Top 10 prospects. One of Baseball America's writers tweeted Friday night that this trade makes it certain that the Cubs have the richest farm system. The challenge will be forming that talent into a usable roster.

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