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The Fourth of July trade that sent shock waves around Major League Baseball actually was a while in the making.
A’s general manager Billy Beane said he and his staff targeted starting pitching as a major need as far back as a month ago. That thinking set in motion the blockbuster deal with the Chicago Cubs on Friday that sent right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.
“We have a team that can win right now,” Beane said on a Saturday morning conference call. “Every window of opportunity you (have to) grasp it. At times you trade your best players for prospects, and at times you trade prospects for the best players. That’s just the cycle we’re in.”
Adding Samardzija and Hammel to bolster the starting rotation vaults the A’s into the realm of serious World Series contenders, in the eyes of many across the country who have opined on the deal. But Beane was quick to head off any questions that suggested he made the trade with an eye toward the postseason, saying that he views the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners as serious challenges in the division race.
Oakland enters Saturday nights’ game against Toronto with a 3 ½ game lead in the A.L. West over the Angels and 6 over the Mariners.
“I think it’s a bit arrogant and presumptuous to think this is a postseason move,” Beane said. “We’ve got two teams behind us that are not going away. Our priority is try to win the division first, then worry about the postseason. … I’m not real comfortable talking about October in July, especially with Mike Trout hitting game-winning homers every night.”
Adding Samardzija and Hammel came at the cost of sending their top prospect, shortstop Addison Russell, to the Cubs, along with right-hander Dan Straily, outfielder Billy McKinney, another highly touted prospect, plus a player to be named or cash considerations.
Russell, who missed about two months earlier this season with a torn hamstring, is regarded as a top-10 overall prospect in the majors, the most highly touted player to come through Oakland’s farm system in several years.
“Addison is a great prospect, one of the best we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Beane said. “But that’s the cost of doing business for pitching this time of year. We have an opportunity, a window. We’ve won two division titles. We’ll do everything we can to make it three, and maybe four.”
The A’s wanted to strike sooner rather than later, before trade talks really heat up around the majors in advance of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. The Cubs had two of the hottest pitching commodities out there in Samardzija and Hammel – both sport sub-3.00 ERAs and are enjoying All-Star caliber seasons.
Chicago, currently in last place in the N.L. Central, is looking to acquire all the young talent it can, and Russell joins a stable of talented infield prospects.
Cubs president of baseball operationsTheo Epstein said his staff has been eyeing Russell since seeing him crush two homers in a fall instructional league game a couple years ago.
“The way the game is going, the batter/pitcher dynamic has shifted dramatically in favor of the pitcher,” Epstein said. “ There are more effective pitchers out there than position players. … I would say more teams out there are looking for offense as opposed to pitching, believe it or not.”
Samardzija, who will wear No. 29 with the A’s, is expected to arrive at the Coliseum on Saturday. He hasn’t pitched since last Saturday, and it’s possible he makes his A’s debut as early as Sunday. Hammel will wear No. 40, and he isn’t expected to arrive until Sunday, as he’s taking an extra day to be with his pregnant wife.
Beane would not reveal when each pitcher would make their first start. And although he wouldn’t comment on whether the A’s would attempt to sign Samardzija to a long-term extension – the right-hander can become a free agent after next season and will be costly – he did say the fact that the A’s will have team control over Samardzija through next season made him more attractive.
Samardzija is making $5.35 million this season as a second-year arbitration player. Hammel is earning $6 million and becomes a free agent at season’s end.