While it did cost them two great pitchers, the Chicago Cubs got a fantastic return in their Fourth of July trade with the Oakland Athletics. While most in the country were watching fireworks, the Cubs sent right-handed pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s in exchange for shortstop Addison Russell, outfield Billy McKinney, RHP Dan Straily and a player to be named later.
The Athletics have the best record in all of baseball at 53-33, and are going for the jugular in this move. They are giving up a ton of young, cost-controlled talent, but Billy Beane cannot be faulted here. The Athletics are in a fantastic position to win, and adding two incredibly productive pitchers is only going to make their team stronger.
That said, this deal makes a ton of sense for the Cubs as well. Hammel is set to be a costless agent this off-season, so his value is extremely limited to the 38-46 Cubs. Samardzija’s contract does not end until after the 2015 season, but an extension between the two sides has seemed extremely unlikely for some time now.
While trading legitimate MLB pitchers is never an easy choice, Cubs’ president Theo Epstein made out like a bandit in this deal. Russell is a sweet swinging shortstop, with impressive power and athleticism. He has legitimate 30-30 potential in the big leagues, and has the defensive ability to stick at shortstop.
The 20-year-old Russell is commonly considered a top ten prospect in all of baseball, and has an incredibly bright future ahead of him. He is currently hitting .333/.439/.500 in 57 Double-A plate appearances.
Prospect guru Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus took to Twitter on Friday night to chime in on Russell. Parks tweeted that Russell will be ranked as the sixth best prospect in the game in the upcoming Baseball Prospectus mid-season top 50 prospect rankings. Parks went on to say that the Cubs now have the third, fifth, sixth and 18th best prospects in baseball according to the soon to be released Baseball Prospectus list.
Addison Russell will rank #6 overall on the upcoming #BPTop50. That would give the #Cubs the #3, #5, #6, and #18 best prospects in MiLB.— Jason Parks (@ProfessorParks) July 5, 2014
It is likely that 3B Kris Bryant, SS Javier Baez and either OF Albert Almora or 2B Arismendy Alcantara are the other names that will be ranked that high by Baseball Prospectus. These guys are just the beginning of the impressive young talent that the Cubs have stocked in the minor leagues, as the organization is also loaded with depth throughout. The addition of Russell gives the Cubs without a doubt, the best minor league system in all of baseball.
While Russell is obviously the center-piece of this deal, the other players who the Cubs landed are very interesting as well.
McKinney was a first round pick (24th overall) by the A’s in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. He was widely considered to be the second best prospect in the Oakland system before the trade, and will likely be a top 10-15 guy in the Cubs’ loaded group of prospects. McKinney is extremely disciplined at the plate, and has a great feel for hitting. He is a natural line drive hitter with some nice gap-to-gap power.
He has decent speed and solid athleticism, and has mostly played centerfield throughout his minor league career. However, most scouts believe that he will end up as a corner outfielder. It is fair to wonder whether McKinney will hit for enough power to play a corner outfield spot, but the power potential is certainly there. If he sacrifices some athleticism, his power will almost certainly grow.
McKinney is currently only hitting .241/.330/.400 in Advanced A-Ball, but at 19-years-old he is one of the youngest players in the league. He is very advanced for his young age, and has plenty of promise. McKinney is certainly a player that could help the Cubs down the line.
Straily is a former top prospect who has struggled to establish himself in the big leagues. That said, his career MLB numbers are pretty solid. In 41 career starts, Straily has an ERA of 4.11, and his 4.73 FIP proves that he has not been unnaturally lucky. His strikeout numbers are not the greatest (7.4 strikeouts per nine innings throughout his career), but he has solid control, and does a nice job of keeping the ball in the ballpark.
Cubs’ pitching coach Chris Bosio has is one of the best in the business. It will be interesting to see what happens to Straily’s career once Bosio gets his hands on him. Straily is unlikely to ever become a top of the rotation piece like Samardzija, but he seems to have a solid future as a mid-rotation innings eater. At only 25-years-old, Straily could easily become a solid part of the Cubs’ rotation for a very long time.
It has yet to be reported, but it seems likely that Straily will start his Cubs’ career in the big leagues, as the Cubs suddenly have two open spots in their rotation.
While a player to be named later is far from a sexy addition to any trade, the Cubs might actually land a legitimate prospect in this case. Raul Alcantara is a prospect who was rumored to be talked about in this trade. While it may not be the case, Alcantara would certainly makes sense as the PTBNL in this deal. He recently under-went Tommy John surgery, and the Cubs could wisely be waiting to see how he progresses before including him in the deal.
Alcantara’s inclusion is purely speculation at this point, but it would be similar to what the Cubs did by having Neil Ramirez included as a PTBNL in the Matt Garza deal with the Texas Rangers last season. Alcantara is a dynamic 21-year-old pitcher who Parks had ranked as the sixth best prospect in the Athletics’ system entering this season. He would certainly be an interesting piece to add to the Cubs’ puzzle.
The Cubs were obviously going to be sellers at the trade deadline, and were able to get a head start on the market with this deal. Sure, they gave up a couple of talented pitchers, but neither guy was likely going to be around when the team is ready to compete anyways. Russell on the other hand, will likely be a key part of whatever success the Cubs have in the near future.
This trade was a classic case of two teams who are in different places. The Athletics are strong contenders who are now the favorites to win the World Series. The Cubs on the other hand, are not ready to compete, and adding young assets is an obvious goal for them at the moment.
Simply put, Russell is one of the most talented young players in the game of baseball, and he is just the beginning of what the Cubs landed in this deal. This trade is a homerun for Epstein and his staff.