Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Monday, June 23, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
The Oakland A’s and the Chicago Cubs made the first big trade of the 2014 season on Friday. Chicago sends two of its starting pitchers, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, out west for a big haul of prospects in Oakland’s Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, Dan Straily and a player to be named later.
For Oakland, at 53-33 the best record in baseball, it’s a major sign that the A’s are in it to win it this year. For the Cubs, it’s another step in the rebuilding process. Off the bat, it seems like a win-win for both teams, although time will be the judge of that.
Samardzija, the former Notre Dame wide receiver, is 2-7 with a 2.83 ERA this season, although that won-loss record is more a factor of the Cubs’ poor offense and horrendous bullpen than it is of his talent. In 108 innings, Samardzija has allowed 99 hits, and struck out 103 against 31 walks. He’s the kind of No. 1 or No. 2 pitcher that Oakland needs at the top of its rotation in a tough playoff series.
Hammel is kind of a wily veteran in the middle of a career year. He’s 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA with 104 strikeouts, 23 walks and 88 hits allowed in 108 2/3 innings. Again, those numbers would probably be even better if he played for a team that gave him run support and had a bullpen that didn’t blow leads.
Adding these guys to the Oakland rotation should help the A’s hold on to their AL West division lead and will give them a big boost in a playoff series.
But the move certainly came at some long-term cost to Oakland. Hammel is a free agent at season’s end. Samardzija is under contract through the end of the 2015 season.
Oakland also gave up top prospect Addison Russell, a shortstop who’s at Double-A this summer. His rise to the majors won’t take long, although his path in Chicago is currently blocked by Starlin Castro. It’s quite possible the Cubs wind up flipping Russell for other assets before he ever dons a Cubs uniform.
McKinney, 19, is a long way from the bigs, as he’s currently playing in High-A this year. An outfielder, McKinney has some power potential with 10 home runs, 12 doubles and two triples through 75 games this season.
Straily is a pitcher with some major league experience and he was a strikeout machine on his way up through the minors. He’ll join Jake Arrieta as up-and-coming arms in the Cubs’ rotation.
The American League no longer looks up-for-grabs. The AL East is full of strong teams, but they’ve spent all season beating each other up. I would imagine the AL East race comes right down to the wire, so will any of those teams have anything left for October? The Tigers looked unbeatable coming out of spring training, but a down year from Justin Verlander dampens Detroit’s expectations for the postseason. Oakland figured to get plenty of competition from Texas this year, but a litany of injuries have made it a lost season for the Rangers. So this trade makes it look like the AL pennant is Oakland’s to lose.
Someday, the Cubs are going to be a team to contend with…but we’ve been hearing that just about as long as we’ve been hearing that soccer is America’s sport of the future. Still, Chicago is hoarding top prospects and could make a few more moves before the trade deadline later this month.
How does this relate to New York baseball?
Well, the Yankees had been hoping CC Sabathia would return at some point after the trade deadline. He’s been on the DL since mid-May with inflammation in his right knee. He made a rehab start in Trenton earlier this week, but was removed after 3 1/3 innings. A follow-up exam revealed lingering problems in the right knee and the Yankees appear set to shut down Sabathia for the rest of the season.
And perhaps the rest of his career.
With Ivan Nova already out for the year and Michael Pineda still no sure bet to return in 2014, either, the Yankees could certainly be in the market for starting pitchers later this month. They had been linked to both Samardzija and Hammel, but the Yankees just didn’t have the talented prospects to make a deal happen with the Cubs.
David Price, the Tampa Bay Rays ace, remains on the market, but he’ll demand an even greater haul than the Samardzija and Hammel duo. I’m not sure if Tampa Bay would be willing to trade him in the division, even if they got fair market value.
Really, what the Yankees do the rest of this month will tell you a great deal about what the front office thinks about this team. If the Yankees wind up picking up a No. 4 or No. 5 starter-type – or two – it’s the very minimal commitment to winning in 2014. A pitcher or two of that caliber might help the Yankees to a playoff berth, probably as the second Wild Card team, which means a one-game playoff on the road. Even if Tanaka starts that game, the Yankees would begin the divisional round in a major hole with Tanaka unavailable for a few days.
With such a poor offense – although that could conceivably turn around any time now – and an injury-riddled starting rotation, what the Yankees really need to be competitive in October makes for a long shopping list. Simply put, the Yankees don’t have the pieces in the farm system to make the major moves necessary to make this a playoff contender.
So what will the Yankees do as the trade deadline approaches? Will they find a way to make a big splash, even with a fairly thin farm system? Are they willing to sacrifice the future for the now? Or would they even consider becoming sellers at the deadline and trying to stock up the farm system for the point when Teixeira and Beltran and McCann aren’t around anymore?
Most likely, the Yankees make a few minor moves, addressing the rotation and second/third base. That keeps them in the race for a while, but it won’t make them any better for October, even if they do qualify for the postseason. And it won’t make the Yankees any for 2015 or beyond, either.