OAKLAND -– The A’s have struck a blockbuster deal to shake up Major League Baseball’s trading season, acquiring starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs for a package that includes top prospect Addison Russell, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed.
Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi were the first to report a deal was in the works Friday. ESPN’s Keith Law is reporting that right-hander Dan Straily and minor league outfielder Billy McKinney -– the A’s No. 2 prospect behind Russell –- also are going to the Cubs.
Oakland is not expected to announce the trade until Saturday at the earliest.
The A’s own the majors’ best record at 53-33, but with one sweeping move they have declared their seriousness about getting over the postseason hump and making a serious run at a World Series. A’s catcher Derek Norris said he’s very excited about the moves, though he hated to see the team part with the players it did.
“Ultimately, this may take our team from being near the top to the top,” Norris said.
The A’s appear to have addressed their biggest need with the deal, as their starting pitching depth has taken a big hit this season due to injuries. But it comes at a steep price.
Russell, a 20-year-old shortstop who was playing at Double-A in the A’s system, is generally considered one of the top 10 prospects in all of the major leagues. He was Oakland’s 2012 first-round pick. McKinney, 19, was a first-round pick the following season. Straily began this season in Oakland’s rotation but was demoted to Triple-A Sacramento in May.
The A’s have made their share of blockbuster trades in recent seasons, but it’s typically been them sending established big leaguers to other teams for prospects. Now, with a team that’s won back-to-back division titles only to be bounced in the A.L. Division Series by Detroit each time, general manager Billy Beane flipped the script and made a trade that has “win now” written all over it.
Though their pitching staff ranks second in the majors with a 3.18 ERA, there was justifiable reason to wonder how their rotation would hold up all season in its current form.
Sonny Gray, in his first full major league season, has fought inconsistency. Jesse Chavez is in his first year as a major league starter. Drew Pomeranz is on the disabled list, and his replacement, Brad Mills, spent all of last season out of the majors. Tommy Milone was terrific in Friday’s 1-0, 12-inning victory over Toronto, but he’s a back-of-the-rotation presence. Even Scott Kazmir, likely to be an All-Star, has had durability issues in the past.
When the A’s get their new starters in uniform, they’ll feature a rotation that should include Gray, Kazmir, Samardzija and Hammel -– in some order -– with a fifth spot likely to be filled by Chavez, Milone or Brad Mills, or some combination of that trio.
Samardzija, 29, was the second-most coveted pitcher on the trade market behind only Tampa Bay’s David Price, and it made sense that it would take Russell to pry him away from the Cubs.
Samardzija is just 2-7 this season for the last-place Cubs, but he holds a 2.83 ERA. He is relatively young and should have several quality years left in his arm. Importantly, he’s also affordable and under team control through the 2015 season. He is making just $5.35 million this season and will remain relatively affordable next season in his third year of arbitration. The A’s will at least have the option of trying to sign Samardzija long-term, though he will be very costly.
The 31-year-old Hammel, 7-5 with a 2.98 ERA this season, is on a $6 million salary this season and will be a free agent at season’s end.