Billy McKinney Rumors

Billy Beane On Samardzija Deal, Roster Construction, Further Trades

Jim Bowden of ESPN talked to Athletics general manager Billy Beane for the latest edition of his “GM’s Office” video blog, and the two discussed a number of trade-related topics, including a fairly in-depth breakdown of the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel blockbuster (video links). While the entire interview is well worth watching (and is only about 10 minutes total), here are some highlights from their conversation…

  • Beane first reached out to Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein about a month ago because he felt there was a lot of value to striking early, especially if the A’s were going to be aggressive with their prospect package, which they clearly were.
  • The Cubs were initially looking to split Samardzija and Hammel in different trades, but trade talks picked up steam when the A’s decided that they wanted both players. After a dormant period, things came together quickly in a matter of 24 to 36 hours, says Beane. He added that he and Epstein discussed some one for one swaps on each pitcher that obviously didn’t pan out.
  • That Samardzija is under control through 2015 was “critical,” said Beane, noting that he’s excited about the added depth that the 2015 roster will have with Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin returning from injury.
  • On what motivated him to make the trade, he offered the following: “I’ll be honest with you, I happen to think the Angels and the Mariners right behind us are two of the better teams in all of the game and they happen to sit in our division. So the narrative that this was a ‘postseason move,’ I think was a bit presumptuous.” He went on to say that winning the division is Oakland’s priority and stressed the dangers of getting involved in a one-game Wild Card playoff. “If you had a one-game playoff and you’re the Wild Card, one of the guys you might be facing is that guy up in Seattle, and that’s not a good situation to be in.” Beane, of course, is referring to Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.
  • Bowden asked if the A’s would have made this deal had Parker not gone down with Tommy John surgery in Spring Training, Beane thought out loud before concluding that he and his staff probably would not have had to make this deal had Parker been healthy.
  • Beane offered high praise for prospect Billy McKinney but even higher praise for Addison Russell, listing him alongside Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada as one of the best position prospects he’s ever had. The emergence of minor league shortstop Daniel Robertson, whom the A’s selected 21 picks after Russell, made it easier to part with Russell, though it was still difficult for Oakland.
  • Asked if this was the best team he’s ever constructed, Beane said he couldn’t judge that at this point and offered praise for his assistant GMs as well. One element of which Beane is very proud is that 23 of the 25 players on the Athletics’ roster were acquired via trade — a very different method of construction from the 2001 “Moneyball” A’s.
  • Asked if the A’s are done or would pursue trades for second basemen, Beane grinned as he replied: “Well, you know, there’s a lot of time left, Jim. … Whether you have needs or not, you have to take advantage of the environment. … This is a time that everybody comes to the table. And whether you’re actively pursuing something specific, you want to be a part of the conversation. … I don’t want to say we’re done. … The short answer is: I hope we’re active still.”

Athletics Acquire Jeff Samardzija And Jason Hammel

JULY 5: The Cubs have officially announced (via Twitter) the trade confirming the team will receive a player to be named later as part of the deal. The A’s meanwhile tweeted the final piece will either be the PTBNL or cash.

JULY 4: The Athletics have agreed to acquire pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Top prospect Addison Russell is heading to Chicago in the deal. Fellow prospect Billy McKinney and pitcher Dan Straily will also go to the Cubs, reports ESPN.com’s Keith Law (via Twitter).

MLB: New York Yankees at Chicago Cubs

Though initial reports indicated that another team could be involved, the final deal is a two-way swap, tweets Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Talks were said to be serious earlier tonight, per reports from Rosenthal and Morosi. There are conflicting reports as to the final piece of the deal (if any): Law (Twitter link), Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter), and Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter) have reported that a PTBNL or cash will go to the Cubs, while Morosi tweets that no additional piece is involved.

The swap represents an aggressive move from an Oakland team that has paced the rest of the league all year long, but which had questions in its rotation and has often been stymied in the postseason. While the club has cruised to a league-best .616 winning percentage, backed by a +129 run differential that is far and away the best in baseball, it is being chased by two clubs (the Angels and Mariners) that rank 2nd and 3rd in the game in run differential. In Samardzija and Hammel, GM Billy Beane filled two rotation needs in one stroke. The former promises to add another top-of-the-rotation arm to the staff, both this year and next, while the latter will provide depth and solid innings as a reasonably-priced rental. Even better for the small-budget A’s, neither player will break the bank. And the team with the best record in the game arguably now firmly stands as the favorite to prevail in the American League.

Samardzija will add to the top of a rotation that has delivered a stellar 3.34 ERA, but which owns peripherals (3.90 FIP, 3.84 xFIP) that paint a somewhat different picture. More importantly, perhaps, are the question marks that accompany the team’s top three hurlers: staff ace Sonny Gray is up to 111 innings but has never thrown more than 182 1/3 in a season as a pro; the emergent Jesse Chavez (103 innings) is about to pass his career high in innings pitched; and Scott Kazmir has a well-documented injury history. Samardzija is earning a modest $5.35MM in his second (and second-to-last) season of arbitration eligibility. Though his excellent 2.83 ERA (8.6 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, and 52.5% groundball rate) through 108 frames will warrant a significant raise next year, he surely projects to deliver significant excess value over his contract. While a run at an extension seems unlikely from Oakland, the team could always flip him next year if circumstances warrant or ultimately make him a qualifying offer.

Hammel, meanwhile, is a sturdy option to bolster the Oakland staff down the stretch. Looking further down the line at the club’s prior options, Tommy Milone has a relatively low ceiling and has outperformed his peripherals this year, Dan Straily‘s minor league numbers largely match the ones that got him demoted (and ultimately dealt), Drew Pomeranz is injured, and Josh Lindblom has just six big league starts to his credit at age 27. Signed to a one-year, $6MM contract entering the season, Hammel owns a solid 2.98 ERA in 102 2/3 frames. Since joining the Cubs, he has returned to striking out better than eight batters per nine, as he did in his excellent 2012 campaign. Unlike that season, however, when Hammel registered a 53.2% groundball rate while walking 3.2 per nine, his success in 2014 has come from limiting the walk (1.84 BB/9) even as his percentage of grounders has dropped to 40.5%. He was probably the most attractive, mid-level, pure rental arm available.

On the other side of the equation, by combining their two top trade chips, the Cubs managed to pick up one of the game’s truly elite prospects in Russell. Many will question the “need” for another shortstop for a club that already has Starlin Castro (and his long-term extension) at the major league level with two top-100 prospects (Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara) in the upper minors. But president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer will gladly add the top-end prospect piece now and figure out any logjams in the future. (If all of those players work out, of course, top-100 middle infielders make for useful trade chips — as this very deal demonstrates.)

The other two pieces in the deal also hold value for Chicago. McKinney, 19, was taken 24th overall in last year’s amateur draft. He owns a .241/.330/.400 line in 333 plate appearances this year at High-A. Of course, while he was widely considered the club’s second-best prospect, he is a ways from the big leagues and does not appear on any league-wide top-100 lists.

Straily, 25, is a bounceback candidate who could provide innings for the Cubs rotation in the near future, though he is headed to Triple-A to start. After logging 152 1/3 innings of 3.96 ERA ball last year (with 7.3 K/9 against 3.4 BB/9 and a 36.4% groundball rate), Straily struggled to a 4.93 mark in his first 38 1/3 frames in 2014. In spite of largely equivalent peripherals, a tendency to the long ball sidetracked the righty. Since being demoted, he has posted good strikeout numbers at Triple-A (as he has in the past), but has nevertheless scuffled to a 4.71 earned run average through 63 frames to date.

From a broader perspective, this deal takes two prime starting pitching targets out of play for the rest of the market. And it delivers them to a club that might not ultimately have made such significant additions. The many clubs angling for rotation pieces will now have less readily available stock to pursue, which could raise the price for the top remaining arms.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. 


West Notes: Headley, Mariners, McCann, McKinney

The Padres face a decision on Chase Headley this winter, and Yahoo's Tim Brown tweets that their current preference is to hang onto their All-Star third baseman and hope that his big September numbers translate to a big year. Headley slipped to a .250/.347/.400 batting line in 2013 but thrived in the season's final month, slashing .305/.424/.573 with five homers. He's projected to earn $10MM next season, after which he's eligible for free agency. More news from baseball's Western divisions below…

  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets out a clarification from an earlier report he made: the Mariners are not in on Mike Napoli this winter. Their priorities this offseason are to sign one ofJacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo and add a starting pitcher. However, they are also expected to pursue a right-handed bat of some kind, says Rosenthal.
  • Athletics 2013 first-rounder Billy McKinney has left BBI Sports Group and joined the Boras Corporation, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday (via Twitter). McKinney slashed .326/.387/.437 across two levels in his first pro season, reaching short-season Class A shortly after his 19th birthday.
  • The Angels hooked up with the Rays to land Scott Kazmir and nearly landed James Shields in July 2012 and Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com wonders if they can link up again to work out a deal for David Price.  To date, there's no indication that the two sides are engaged in serious talks.

Zach Links contributed to this post.



Prospect Rumor Roundup: Early Draft Returns

The 2013 amateur draft is now fully in the rearview mirror and a new wave of talent has filtered into the professional ranks. Some of the '13 draftees have been riding the buses for more than a month now, while others have only recently pulled on their spikes. Below is a look at first round picks who are off to impressive starts with their new organizations. Standard warnings about reading too much into small sample sizes apply.

Mark Appel, RHP, Astros (1st overall): The top selection in the 2013 draft has made four starts in the minors and has already earned a promotion, moving from the New York Penn League to the Midwest League. Despite a bit of a layoff between the college season and his first pro appearance, the Stanford alum has displayed good control with just one walk in 13 innings while striking out 13 batters. Curt Rallo, writing for MiLB.com, recently caught up with Appel and spoke to him about the adjustments he's making as a professional baseball player.  

Kohl Stewart, RHP, Twins (4th): The highest drafted prep product, 18-year-old Kohl has acclimatized well to his new life as a pro ball player. Stewart, a Texas native, features a 1.80 ERA with nine strikeouts in 10 innings of work over four appearances (two starts). 

Clint Frazier, OF, Indians (5th): The 18-year-old Frazier is stinging the ball through his first 18 pro games. He's hitting more than .300 with nine extra base hits. On the down side, he's whiffed 24 times, including nine strikeouts in his last four games. Clearly, he has some further adjustments to make if he hopes to see continued success on the diamond.

Hunter Dozier, SS, Royals (8th): The Royals' first pick received a lot of attention for being an overdraft so the club could later afford pitcher Sean Manaea, who slipped out of first round consideration due to injury concerns. Dozier, though, is making the decision to pick him eighth overall look inspired. He has an .856 OPS and 20 of his 37 hits have gone for extra bases during his time in the Pioneer League. Dozier has also walked more than he's struck out (19-16). His first professional baseball club, the Idaho Falls Chukars, recently published an audio Q&A with the first rounder.

D.J. Peterson, 3B, Mariners (12th): Peterson was promoted from the Northwest League to the Midwest League on Tuesday and he will leave behind some impressive numbers. The third baseman popped six home runs and posted a .915 OPS in 29 games. He also showed solid contact skills with a strikeout rate of just under 15%, which is impressive given his power output.

Reese McGuire, C, Pirates (14th): The Pirates had two first round selections in 2013 and McGuire has gotten off to a quicker start than his new teammate Austin Meadows. The young catcher is hitting more than .400 with a 1.012 OPS through his first 15 games. He's also impressing behind the plate by catching 50% of base runners attempting to steal. John Lembo of the Bradenton Herald spoke to both McGuire and Meadows about their thoughts of growing up in the Pirates organization.

J.P. Crawford, SS, Phillies (16th): Philadelphia has been snakebitten over the past few years when it comes to their first round draft picks, and the organization is clearly hoping for bigger and better things from Crawford. He's off to a good start in Rookie ball where he's compiled 25 hits and seven walks in 18 games, good for a .427 on-base percentage. By getting on base at such a good clip, it should allow him to pile up some steals thanks to his above-average speed.

Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox (18th): Anderson is the third shortstop on this list who's off to a quick start to his career. Playing in low-A ball, he's getting on base at a solid clip (.371 OBP) while nabbing 12 bases in 15 attempts through the first 32 games of his pro career. One red flag, though, is his strikeout rate of 25%, especially given that power is not a big part of his game right now; an improvement in his contact rate would likely help him improve his on-base percentage even further. Anderson could move quickly through the Sox system, which could help to explain why the club may be willing to part with incumbent shortstop Alexei Ramirez. Michael Teague of MiLB.com spoke to the young prospect shortly after he was named the top junior college athlete in the country for 2013.

Jonathon Crawford, RHP, Tigers (20th): Crawford has opened his pro career in the New York Penn League and he's expected to be one of the first college-groomed draft picks to reach the Major League level. Through six appearances, he's looking good with a 2.03 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings of work. He was downright unhittable in three of those appearances (totaling six innings). Lynn Henning of the Detroit News spoke to Crawford's manager in Connecticut about the recent draft pick's positive start to his career.

Billy McKinney, OF, Athletics (24th): After batting just .242 with a .558 OPS in June, McKinney has heated up in July and currently has a .367 average and .861 OPS. The left-handed-hitting Texas native has improved his game in part by making more contact and lowering his strikeout rate. He's also holding his own against southpaws, which is impressive to see from such a young hitter.