Friday, July 4, 2014
Lessons from the A's-Cubs blockbuster
Friday night's trade in which the Cubs shipped RHPs Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel off to Oakland in exchange for A's prospects SS Addison Russell and OF Billy McKinney and RHP Dan Straily is the first blockbuster of this season and has four fascinating subplots with reverberations that will be felt throughout baseball.
1) Billy Beane realized the A's lacked the necessary starting pitching to advance deep into October.
Leave it to Beane, long recognized as the game's best GM, to realize that the A's, despite an MLB-best 53-33 record, had major question marks up and down their entire rotation.
Jarrod Parker was viewed as a rotation mainstay after going 25-16 in 2012-13 but is out for the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, while Drew Pomeranz was a major revelation until he broke his hand.
Ace Sonny Gray is an emerging superstar but is on pace to eclipse 200 IP for the first time in his young career and could be running on fumes come October.
Scott Kazmir has proven that last year's comeback with Cleveland was no fluke; however, his injury history remains a concern.
Then there's Jesse Chavez, who's filled in admirably, but prior to this year he had started only twice in 191 big league appearances.
In Samardzija, Beane has acquired a legitimate #2 who can eat innings and should enjoy the move from the cozy confines of Wrigley Field to pitcher-friendly O.co Coliseum. As it is, Samardzija's enjoying a career year -- his 2.83 ERA currently ranks 10th in the National League, while his 8.58 K/9 is eighth-best in the Senior Circuit. The 29-year-old is not a free agent until after next season.
Though not as talented as Samardzija, Hammel is also in the midst of his best season and should fill in ably as Oakland's #4 behind Gray, Samardzija, and Kazmir. Hammel's 2.92 ERA and 8.50 K/9 are just a tick behind Samardzija's and, if nothing else, he's a guy who should give Oakland quality innings in bulk. The 31-year-old veteran is a free agent after this season and will be exempt from the qualifying offer rule because he was traded mid-season.
In one fell swoop, Oakland acquired two horses that have transformed its starting rotation from a patchwork job to one of the best in the league. It's still early and there are still trades to be made, but if the postseason started tomorrow, Oakland would be the consensus pick to represent the American League in the World Series.
2) David Price just became a lot pricier.
Excuse us, we just couldn't avoid the pun. But it's true. With all due respect, Price is a better pitcher than either Samardzija or Hammel will ever be, and, like Samardzija, his new team will enjoy his services for TWO pennant races because he's not a free agent until after the 2015 season.
With the Cubs receiving one elite prospect (Russell) and one very good one (McKinney) in the deal, the bar is set even higher for what the Rays would be getting back in any Price trade. In last week's Trade Fair column, we discussed how St. Louis GM John Mozeliak would probably not have to surrender organizational gem, OF OscarTaveras, in any deal for Price. Well, throw that idea out the window. Given what the A's paid for Samardzija and Hammel, if the Cardinals want the superior Price, Taveras is a goner.
The same holds true for any other team that is hoping to land Price. Take the Dodgers, for example, who have been rumored to be in the market for the big left-hander's services. To land Price, GM Ned Colletti will have to give up either OF Joc Pederson or SS Corey Seager, as both guys are in the same prospect class as Taveras.
3) Does Cubs GM Theo Epstein have a follow-up deal up his sleeve?
This trade will give Chicago an abundance of highly-rated positional prospects. Reed, 2B Arismendy Alcantara, SS Javier Baez, 3B Kris Bryant , OF Jorge Soler, OF Albert Almora, and C/OF Kyle Schwarber are all consensus Top-100 prospects, while McKinney and a few others are loudly knocking on the door. However, the Cubs' pitching cupboard is shockingly thin.
Although, prospect-for-prospect deals are extremely rare in baseball, we wouldn't put it past Epstein to swing such a deal to get back a young, talented hurler. It's tough to gauge which youngster would be on his way out, but our money is on Baez being shown the door. With Russell, the superior defender, now entrenched at SS, and Alcantara and Bryant ensconced at their respective positions, there may simply not be enough room for Baez, whose poor plate discipline has many scouts questioning what type of hitter he'll be in the majors.
4) The A's must REALLY love Daniel Robertson.
The A's belief that Russell would one day evolve into a Barry Larkin-type shortstop was no secret. In fact, last winter many teams reportedly called Beane to ask about Russell's availability only to be turned down. However, Robertson's emergence this year probably made it easier for the A's brass to part with the precocious Russell.
Robertson, just 20, is having a banner offensive year at High A Stockton, where he's hitting .297/.402/.465 against older competition. More importantly, however, has been his defensive development. Drafted out of high school as a shortstop in 2012, Robertson was always viewed as a guy who'd one day shift to third base, where he profiles as a David Wright clone. That was until he showed up in spring training with much more range and improved glove work.