Reflections on the Samardzija Trade

In Commentary And Analysis by GW

Last night, the Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, Dan Straily and a PTBNL. In following reactions around the Cub twitter-sphere, I was pretty surprised at how split the reactions were: fans who have bought in to what Thoyer is doing think this is on par with the Wedding at Cana, those who haven’t think the current front office is filled with twelve-year-old prospect mavens. I guess I should expect it- that’s what twitter is, after all- but I can’t help but wonder: am I the only person who thinks this is a very fair deal for both sides?

On Addison Russell

Russell is a premium prospect, without a doubt. He’s a shortstop who can stick at the position, and he can hit with power. He’s legitimately a top 10 guy, the caliber of player that wasn’t coming back for Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Matt Garza, or Scott Feldman. He’s exactly the type of player that the Cubs have coveted in this rebuild, but have previously lacked the ammunition to acquire. And despite putting it all together this season, 1.5 seasons of Samardzija likely wouldn’t have been enough to get him. It took a healthy Jason Hammel who also happened to be pitching better than ever to make it happen.

On the other hand, I don’t see it as a miracle that the team managed to shake him loose from Oakland. The A’s received two pitchers who are currently performing at top-of-the-rotation levels. One of them is under contract for next season, and will probably be moved if the A’s falter in 2015. The other seems like a shoe-in to get a qualifying offer for 2015, and thus a draft pick or a reasonable contract for next season is in the offing (EDIT: Forgot that this wasn’t right). To me, a premium prospect is exactly what it should take to get that deal done. Also, Jeff Passan tells us that the A’s previously offered Russell for David Price, and that Tampa rejected the deal.

It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which the Cubs didn’t get a player of Russell’s caliber, but as J.J. Cooper pointed out, Russell had to be included in any deal with Oakland. And Oakland can really use the pitching.

On Billy McKinney

McKinney was the #2 prospect in the A’s system, but the A’s system isn’t very good right now. McKinney didn’t make the preseason top 100 for BA, BP, or Fangraphs. John Sickels had him at #106. He has performed reasonably well in 2014, but a .315 wOBA in the Cal League isn’t likely to put him onto any of the midseason lists. He is very young, and a good pickup for a Cub organization that lacks outfield ‘spects, but don’t look at the “#2 Prospect in the System” label and assume that he is top 50 material.

On Dan Straily

It’s tempting to think that Straily is the next Jake Arrieta, but the comparison doesn’t fit that well. Yes, Straily was looked fabulous in 2012, but his velocity has steadily declined since then, and now he’s throwing 88 mph and walking 10% of hitters in Sacramento.

On Too Many Shortstops

I don’t see any issue here. Middle infielders who can hit will always be at a premium. Yes, the Cubs have Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez, but as Myles has pointed out, both come with a fair amount of risk, and neither is as well-rounded as Russell. Baez will likely have to shift away from the position. Alcantara may be good enough to stick there, but has already moved. Hopefully Alcantara has the speed to play center, as it looks like he could end up there before long.

For those who wanted pitching, answer this: is there any pitching prospect in the minors that you would exchange straight up for Russell? The answer for me is a pretty easy “no.”

On the A’s

Oakland is an easy franchise to like, even for curmudgeons like me whose first inclination is to scoff at those who read Moneyball and spent the next decade hyperventilating about market inefficiencies. I really admire their boldness here, especially since this trade is so reminiscent of the one that brought Matt Holliday from the Rockies, all the way down to Carlos Gonzalez and Addison Russell’s hamstrings. Here’s hoping that this one pans out for them, that Samardzija helps them win it all, and that the Cubs feel as good about the deal in five years as Colorado does now.

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