Posted literally two mins ago
Timelines dictate massive Cubs-A's deal.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The A's get have added a huge injection into their rotation of both quality and depth, but it does come at a cost -- their last two first-round picks, both excellent prospects right now, boosting a Cubs system that was already among the top five in baseball. In a significant deal, both sides add impact, with different timelines in mind.
Jeff Samardzija has gone from a potential DFA candidate after 2011 to mid-rotation starter in 2012. Now, he's throwing like a front-of-the-rotation starter this year, and he'll hit his 30s with less mileage on his arm than almost every other No. 1 starter to reach that milestone. Before the 2012 season, he simplified his delivery and tightened up his slider while also beginning to work more to the lower third of the zone with his fastball, although it was really the slider's development into a bona fide out pitch that helped him become an above-average major-league starter. This year, he's been locating the fastball more consistently (with a career-best groundball rate, 52.5 percent) and has shown better life on the pitch without losing velocity. He has the size and delivery to hold up for 220 innings a year, and he's probably worth two to two and a half wins to the A's for the rest of this year, with the potential for a 5-WAR season next year before he heads off into $20 million-a-year free agency.
Hammel has pitched nearly as well as Shark this year, although he doesn't have the same ceiling or long-term outlook as Samadzija and is essentially just a two-month rental. He's returned to the form he showed in 2012 for Baltimore, but he's using the two-seamer even more this year and is having more success with it, also gaining effectiveness on the four-seamer because hitters aren't certain which way the ball is going to move. For Oakland, he probably replaces Tom Milone in the short-term, but Jesse Chavez isn't going to be able to handle 200 innings after several years in relief and hasn't been as effective the second time around the league, so at some point I expect Hammel to end up taking work from Chavez. It's a gain of a win over the rest of the year, maybe more if you figured Chavez was going to either lose most of his effectiveness or wouldn't hold up under the workload.
In exchange for the two starters, about 50 starts from Samardzija and about 15 from Hammel, the Cubs get back one of the top prospects in baseball, along with another solid to above-average prospect and a back-end starter who's major-league ready. (There's a PTBNL heading to Chicago too, but my sources indicate he won't change the balance of the deal at all.)
If you look at it in pieces, you could pitch the deal as Addison Russell and Dan Straily for Samardzija, then Billy McKinney straight up for Jason Hammel, both of which individually are strong returns for the Cubs.
Russell is a top-five prospect in the game, a true shortstop with an advanced bat, showing good on-base skills and line-drive power, even though he's just 20 years old in Class AA. He has some of the best hands I've ever seen on a prospect, both as a fielder and at the plate. He slimmed down before his senior year of high school to prove to scouts that he could stay at shortstop, and he has the soft, quick hands for the position as well as plenty of arm, needing refinement on his footwork to remain there. At the plate, he has a simple, fluid swing that produces hard line-drive contact and should eventually lead to 15-20 homers a year, if not more. His approach at the plate is already advanced and continues to improve; he came into July 4th with as many walks as strikeouts in his brief Class AA tenure, which was interrupted by a hamstring tear that cost him over two months. He could still be ready for the major-league club next spring, although a return engagement in the Arizona Fall League to make up for the lost at bats would help significantly. In the long term, he's a potential All-Star at shortstop who posts high OBPs with the aforementioned power and above-average defense.
The Cubs are quite loaded in the infield, with Javier Baez currently playing short in AAA, natural shortstop Arismendy Alcantara playing second, and former shortstop Kris Bryant at third. Russell is the best shortstop of the entire group, so his arrival could hasten a chain of position switches with Baez going to third and Bryant to right field. It also could put Starlin Castro, showing signs of life with the bat again, on the trade block in the next 12 months, depending on Russell's health and progress in the minors.
McKinney's superficial stats this year don't tell a great story about his skill set, in part because he's 19 years old in high-A, taking the same express route that Russell took the previous year by going from the draft one June to the California League ten months later. McKinney is a pure left fielder with a pretty left-handed swing that he can repeat well and with good loft in its finish. He loads his hands a little too high and deep, although his hand acceleration is so good that he can get the barrel to the zone in time to make contact; cutting that load slightly might produce better results when he puts the ball in play. Despite being the Cal League's second-youngest regular, he's making a lot of contact and showing power and patience, although a recent shift to get him more aggressive earlier in the count has cut down on his walks. He projects as an above-average regular in left even if his defense is just neutral there, although I think he has the instincts to end up an asset there with the glove.
Straily is more than a throw-in even though he's been just replacement level for the A's in 38 innings this year, boasting a four-pitch mix led by an above-average slider but a fringy fastball. He doesn't have the command to succeed with this arsenal yet, since the slider, while sharp, isn't a great chase pitch, and he has to rely on missing bats in the zone -- a trick that requires more precise location than he's shown so far. He has four years of control remaining after this season and will be cheap for the next two, at least, making him a valuable asset for the Cubs as much because of cost as because of performance, as they'll need some rotation depth and don't have cheap, major-league ready starters in their high minors right now. There's a player to be named heading to Chicago too, but I'm told it's not going to change the balance of the deal.
Overall, the trade seems to make sense for both sides because the two clubs are at such different spots in the success cycle. The A's are in win-now mode and have just gone all-in while also deleting two starting pitchers from the trade market, potential targets for their rivals in the AL playoff race. The Cubs are still building, weren't able to sign Samardzija to an extension with which they felt comfortable, and were able to add one of the best prospects in all of baseball -- plus two other pieces.
If the A's win the World Series with Samardzija and Hammel, I'm sure they'll be able to live with watching Russell make All-Star teams for the Cubs while McKinney nails down left field.