Yesterday, the Cubs set off fireworks in the baseball world when they agreed to send Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics for top prospect Addison Russell, outfield prospect Billy McKinney, and pitcher Dan Straily. In a conference call earlier today, Cubs President Theo Epstein spoke fondly of both starters and thanked them profusely for their effort while in Chicago. Samardzija will be under contract with Oakland through 2015 but Hammel will hit the open market after the 2014 season. I asked Epstein if he might circle back to the 31-year-old whom he signed to a reasonable one-year, $6MM deal earlier this year.
“You know, Jason left a great impression while he was here, but he’s an Oakland A now,” Epstein said. “We just wish him well with Oakland all the way through October.”
While word of the trade leaked out late last night, the deal between Chicago and Oakland was actually agreed to mid-afternoon yesterday. A’s GM Billy Beane first reached out to Epstein “about a month ago” to let him know that they wanted to be aggressive this year, particularly in acquiring pitching, and asked him to keep the A’s in mind when it came to Samardzija and Hammel. Epstein quickly realized the two clubs didn’t match up “one-for-one” in a deal involving Samardzija and Russell, but they managed to expand the deal in yesterday’s talks to something that worked for both sides.
Russell is one of the top prospects in baseball and gives the Cubs a nice return for their pitchers, but Epstein is hopeful this will be the last time they find themselves on this side of a summer deal.
“We thought a lot internally as we went through this process that we hope that this is the last year that we’ll be obvious sellers at the deadline. And, nothing would make us happier than aggressively adding to the big league team and enhancing chances for a World Series,” Epstein said. “We repeated to ourselves that this type of move is not something that we want to do.”
Of course, the addition of Russell gives the Cubs something of a glut at shortstop on the surface. However, even with Starlin Castro at the big league level and two top-100 prospects in Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara waiting in the wings, Epstein says no one will be changing positions right away.
“The nice thing about having impact players who are athletic, can play in the middle of the field, and can hit is that it gives you options. You can never have too many shortstops and you look around baseball and you see some of the best outfielders in the game came up as shortstops and the same for the best third basemen and second basemen. We feel that Baez is a shortstop but we’re also comfortable that he can play second base or third base or outfield if he has to. Addison Russell has versatility to play all over the infield, Bryant can also go out to right field with a relatively smooth transition, Alcantara can play shortstop or second base or be one heck of an outfielder…They can all fit on the field together,” said the Cubs president, who went on to say the acquisition of Russell had “nothing to do” with Castro.
Ultimately, the Cubs feel you can never have too much of a good thing and they have a plan in place to make sure everyone is utilized. Of course, as Epstein himself said, there also figures to be plenty of trades in the club’s future.