The Oakland Athletics and Chicago Cubs have agreed on a deal that sends starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. The centerpiece of the return to the Cubs is top-flight prospect Addison Russell.
The Cubs are also getting starting pitcher Dan Straily and outfield prospect Billy McKinny in addition to a player to be named later.
Samardzija, 29, is 2-7 with a 2.83 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 108 innings this season. He's set to hit free agency for the first time after 2015.
Russell is a 20-year-old shortstop with off-the-charts upside. He entered this season as a top-15 prospect by every major prospect-ranking outlet. Baseball Prospectus had him all the way up at No. 7. He missed time due to injury this season, but is hitting .333/.439/.500 with three doubles, one homer, eight RBI and three steals in 13 games for Double-A Midland.
As for why the Cubs would want to trade for a shortstop when they have All-Star-caliber Starlin Castro in the majors and another top-10 prospect in Javier Baez at Triple-A, it's rather simple. First of all, sometimes prospects (Baez?) end up as busts. If they don't, position changes could be in order. And if there's a true logjam -- if no one is a bust and no one fits as a position change guy -- trades could be made to shore up other holes at that time. Essentially, if you can get a top-10 prospect, you get him without regard for where he plays.
Hammel, who will turn 32 in early September, is 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 108 2/3 innings this season.
The A's have baseball's best record at 53-33, but there were pitching concerns on the horizon. Scott Kazmir is great, but you worry about him holding up for the whole season due to relatively recent track record. Sonny Gray is also great, but he hasn't had a full MLB season yet. Then you have Jesse Chavez (career middle reliever before this season), Tommy Milone (6-3, 3.55 ERA this season -- basically a fine back-of-rotation guy for a good team) and Brad Mills (just acquired in a trade for one dollar, literally).
Adding in Samardzija and Hammel alongside Kazmir, Gray and probably Milone -- with Chavez a nice sixth option -- upgrades things significantly for the two-time defending AL West champs.
McKinney, 19, was the A's first-round pick last year and is hitting .241/.330/.400 with 12 doubles, 10 homers and 33 RBI for High-A Stockton. He was selected out of high school, so poor numbers in High-A right now shouldn't be a concern.
Straily, 25, was 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA for the A's last season in 27 starts. He got seven starts for the A's this season but has been pitching in Triple-A since the first week of May.