July 4th is always a day of pageantry around the game of baseball, though it’s typically quiet on the trade front. Five years ago today, however, the Athletics and Cubs produced some rare fireworks with a memorable swap that created quite the butterfly effect.
The Oakland organization acquired not one, but two top trade targets of that year’s summer market in Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Prying both loose nearly a month before the deadline meant coughing up one of the game’s best prospects in Addison Russell, along with a nice secondary piece in Billy McKinney. Pitcher Dan Straily also went to Chicago to help the team fill innings.
This is the swap that forever gives credence to fan and media notions of “packaging” trade chips, a concept that has been mimicked since but remains relatively rare. The Cubs had good reason to put a big asking price on the two hurlers at that stage of the season.
Samardzija, a pitcher long lauded for his talent, had finally come into his own with a 2.83 ERA through 108 innings. He came with another year of arbitration eligibility, leaving ample leverage with the Cubs. The club could have auctioned him closer to the deadline, held him for a winter trade, or pursued an extension over the offseason to come.
Hammel also owned a sub-3.00 ERA at the time the deal came together, making him an excellent rental asset. His $6MM make-good deal worked out better than the Cubs ever could have anticipated. Top Chicago baseball decisionmaker Theo Epstein could plausibly tell his counterpart, Billy Beane of the A’s, that he would be glad to wait to see what he could get for Hammel on July 31st if Oakland wouldn’t pay full retail for both hurlers.
It was easy for the Cubs to pull the trigger when Russell was plugged in as the headliner. He then ranked as one of the dozen or so best prospects in the game. Best of all, he was already playing at the Double-A level, meaning the Cubs had good reason to believe they would get production out of him in the very near term. McKinney was also a significant trade piece, having only just been taken in the first round of the draft in the prior year.
For the Athletics, it goes without saying that this was an all-in move. At the time, the club was dominating the rest of the league, but facing a stern test from the Angels. Oakland’s all-in bid ultimately didn’t quite work out. The A’s went on to make another major summer strike for a starter, adding Jon Lester from the Red Sox. Lester (2.44 ERA) and Samardzija (3.14) threw quite well, while Hammel (4.26) faded but was sturdy enough. But the Athletics were out-raced by the Halos in the AL West. The A’s took a Wild Card slot, but lost one of the most memorable games of recent memory to the eventual American League-champion Royals.
Ironically, after starting that contest, Lester would end up signing with the Cubs in the ensuing offseason. He later said that the trade made it easier for him to imagine playing in a new city after spending his entire career in Boston. He ended up deciding to join Epstein, the former Sox GM, in Chicago….and ultimately played a key role in the club’s curse-breaking championship run.
Russell was also a key contributor in 2016, earning an All-Star nod and finishing the season with 21 home runs in his age-22 campaign. It seemed he was on his way to being a long-term stalwart and perhaps even a Chicago legend. That has all changed since. After some tepid work on the field, Russell was suspended following accusations of domestic abuse. The team has stuck with him since, but the sheen has long since worn off.
McKinney never appeared in a MLB uniform for the Cubs, but he would help the team out in another way. He again featured as a secondary piece in another major trade, going along with another elite infield prospect Gleyber Torres in the 2016 deal that landed the Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman and helped spur the team’s title run. Torres was no doubt seen as somewhat more expendable due to the presence of Russell and other good young infielders (especially Javy Baez, who has eclipsed him at short). But it no doubt stings quite a bit to see Torres starring in pinstripes.
This was also the first of a series of seemingly incongruous moves involving Straily. He was sent out in the ensuing offseason in the deal that brought Dexter Fowler to Chicago, beginning a notable chapter all its own for the Cubs organization. (That trade also involved the dearly departed Luis Valbuena.) Straily was swapped to the Padres in the following spring for journeyman catcher Erik Kratz, only to be claimed off waivers days later by the Reds. After a surprising 2016 campaign, Straily was shipped to the Marlins in a deal that landed the Reds then-prospect and current NL Cy Young candidate Luis Castillo (who was briefly a member of the Pads before being forcibly traded back to the Fish). Straily was released this spring after two useful but uninspiring seasons in Miami.
So, what of the two hurlers that spurred all this movement? Hammel may not have been at his best in Oakland, but that only helped the Cubbies get a deal to bring him back. They brought him in for an affordable $20MM over two years and certainly got their money worth. Hammel ended up throwing 337 1/3 innings of 3.79 ERA ball before he was sent back onto the open market, helping the team reach the World Series — though he did not crack the ’16 postseason roster.
Samardzija also ended up in Chicago, but with the cross-town White Sox. That swap allowed the A’s to recoup some of the lost prospect value, and, perhaps, get the last laugh in this whole scenario. In addition to Rangel Ravelo, who reached the majors briefly with the Cardinals, the deal brought in three players that remain in the Oakland organization. Marcus Semien effectively took Russell’s place as the long-term shortstop. That has turned out quite well for Oakland in and of itself, as Semien has easily outperformed Russell of late. He reached 3.7 fWAR last year and has already tabbed 3.1 in a breakout ’19 offensive campaign. The deal also included righty Chris Bassitt and catcher Josh Phegley, each of whom has had some ups and downs but currently features as a key cog for the 2019 A’s.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
We don’t need Torres because we have Russel- wow
Luis Castillo for Dan Straily- bigger wow
You gotta remember at the time, Torres was still pretty far away from the majors, there were major concerns about whether he could stick at short, and the infield was full
Giants traded Castillo to the Marlins for Casey McGehee. That one stings.
Love it lmao
Down with OBP
They are more than accusations, right? He was suspended for his abusive actions.
He was suspended by the league based upon the applicable standards. It was not proven in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt (not that a conviction would specifically prove the matter or that a not guilty finding would have the opposite effect). Mostly, we have not seen evidence publicly beyond the statements of his accuser, so I will state things in that manner in order to ensure accuracy.
I do not doubt his accuser in the least, and I find domestic violence abhorrent, but I’m also not going to state a broader proposition than I can specifically and fully support. I think I’ve made my feelings on this matter as clear as possible, while being fair and accurate as possible, in my prior writings on it and other such situations.
Down with OBP
I think you need to develop a better policy on this. We are not adjudicating this in a court of law and calling it an accusation undermines your statement that you believe the accuser. While not as egregious as recent broadcasters talking about this, language matters and it’s disappointing to hear this. Clearly he was punished for something by his workplace. That should be the more important threshold to meet than a court of law.
There are such things as libel laws. Any journalist or writer who claims Russell is guilty of domestic violence can expect a hefty libel lawsuit against him. Everything Jeff wrote in the article is factually correct. He can state his opinion on the matter, but cannot factually say Russell committed domestic violence because he was never convicted of it. It has nothing to do with a policy.
The MLB is a private business that is separate from the government. They do not have to meet the same threshold as a court of law. Whatever is outlined in the CBA and/or agreed to between the League/MLBPA is what they have to uphold.
But yes, he beat that woman.
He was indeed punished in the workplace based upon the allegations, as plainly stated/linked to in this very article.
And if you click back through the chain of links we’ve left on this story, you’ll find that we have fully and respectfully presented Melisa Reidy’s allegations along with her explanations for why she did not make them earlier. We have no desire to minimize the situation; quite the contrary, in fact.
I certainly agree that language matters. I won’t bend my standards of precision to suit my own viewpoints or anyone else’s, on this or any other subject. You’ll see my opinion come through at times, but it’ll be clearly identifiable as such.
Plausibly. Or maybe plausible-tell.
I remember how hype that Athletics team was in 2014 until they decided to trade Cespedes mid-season then Donaldson for garbage in the offseason.
Billy Beane can sure put an ugly black storm cloud over a fun festive sunny party! Those trades were deflating gut punches to the team, and the A’s faithful fan base!
smh Beane definitely could’ve made that trade work without Yoenis but he got cocky and thought he could replace him with a Gomes/Fuld platoon, ruined the clubhouse/season
Those 2012-2013 A’s were a great respite from the Northside of Chicago. Head banging for Balfour Rage. That was a really fun crew. Cespedes was must watch TV.
Good historical article. Nice work.
Chris Bassitt is doing well for a 16th round senior signing!
Great article! Thanks!
Jeff, normally I wouldn’t do this, we all make the occasional typo, but dude, it looks like you didn’t proofread.
“…worked out better than the Cubs ever good have anticipated.” I think you wanted would have anticipated.
“Theo Epstein could plausible tell his counterpart,” I think it should be plausibly.
“For the Athletics, it goes without saying that this was as all-in a move. I think you ‘an’ instead of ‘as’.
Also, I still wonder to this day why Donaldson wasn’t guarding the line in that WC game when Perez doubled down the line.
‘As’ is correct. Maybe you should stick to never doing it.
‘As’ implies there’s more to came, like ‘as all-in a move as what you’d expect’. Or ‘as all-in a move as the A’s were willing to make’. As Jeff points out below, it is awkward. and regardless, saying ‘this was an all-in move’, is clearer, and better usage.
Even if you’re correct, it’s still 2 out of 3. Maybe you should stick to whatever it is you do.
2 bigger factors in that game. Johnny Gomez in LF missing Hosmer fly ball. and having no back up catcher when Sotto went down. KC ran off Norris knowing he couldn’t throw on a bad shoulder.
You are right – I didn’t proofread it. I was hoping that would happen later since I was rushing out the door. Thanks, I will make the fixes. (The 3rd was intended that way but is awkward anyway.)
Ugh do we have to read about the wife beater at all? But still, good article.
Man were the Marlins ever on a mission to trade Castillo. Rea fell through, why not get Straily instead? And to think if they waited a few months or so, they could’ve maybe landed Wade Leblanc or Yovani Gallardo.
Castillo AND Josh Naylor.
Hammel was trash his first month in Oakland. Walk rate was way up and I think he had an ERA of around 8 in July 2014. If he’d been half decent that first month in an A’s uni, then maybe the Cespedes trade doesn’t happen.
Oakland has a really hard time getting good players to play at an elite level for them on a minimal-term deal.
Agreed, Cespedes should have gotten a better return than 11 starts of a rental.
Unrelated to this post, but Robel Garcia homered for the Cubs in his first Major league start today. He is the real deal! You heard it here first, he is the answer the Cubs have been looking for.
Trade didn’t really work out for anyone
Trade as-is didn’t work out, but furthermore 1 year of Shark for 4 MLB players including 3 useful current Oakland regulars was robbery at it’s finest.
Montas aside, from Giambi to Russell, the A’s sure have a knack of getting rid of problematic players before they burn them.
Russell was not problematic prospect in A ball. He ranked as an elite prospect then got injured that spring training and injured most of first half. Daniel Robertson broke out in high A ball and this coincides with A’s being the best team in baseball by that summer of 2014. Coincidentally they traded Robertson that offseason for Ben zobrist. If they didn’t include cash the other player in that deal wouldve been their current first baseman matt olson. And of course the zobrist half season rental in 2015 led to the royals championship run and them giving up sean manaea
Had the A’s been a competent front office, they would have known about the bigger problem dealing Donaldson for Lawrie and company. Because Beane still rides on Sandy Alderson’s coattails he continues to skate for being a mediocre executive in a small baseball market. He would have failed in Boston. Red Sox should be glad Beane didn’t take the job.
Shouldn’t the correct term be grouping instead of packaging? You package objects not people.
The only bad from this deal is Samardzija who was named an NL all star was not allowed to appear for the A’s. He was traded there’s no reason not to let him rep oakland. And billy Beane did what he does best flipped him for prospects now the giants and their fans are stuck with him. Cubs should have kept McKinney.
You want McKinney back? I’m sure that can be arranged.
Nope. He’s a officially a journeyman now. But by means take addison Russell to Toronto for 2 of your best relievers if they got them.