By: Tim Van Duyne
It’s been rumored all season long that the Chicago Cubs were going to move its ace pitcher in Jeff Samardzija. He was the Cubs biggest and most impressive piece to move, and Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein, and Cubs’ GM, Jed Hoyer, got the job done.
Last night Ken Rosenthal with Fox Sports reported the Cubs were trading Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s for Addison Russell and players to be named later.
Well, it’s later, and the other players have been named. The Cubs also received Billy McKinney and Dan Straily. McKinney was the second rated prospect in the A’s system and he plays the outfield. Straily was the A’s top-triple-A pitcher and posted a 4.11 ERA in 41 career starts for Oakland.
This trade benefits both teams. The Oakland A’s own the best record in the MLB at 53-33, and now they added two solid pitchers, both with an ERA under 3.00. The Cubs are a year or two away from really competing, so adding the top two prospects from the A’s organization to add to the large stockpile of Cubs top prospects is huge.
Also, Samardzija’s contract is up after the 2015 season. So, realistically the Cubs could sign Samardzija after next season when they, hopefully, are ready to compete for a pennant.
Russell is listed as the No. 14 prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America and No. 11 by MLB.com. He was the number one prospect in the A’s system and was considered to be the shortstop of the future in Oakland.
Here is MLB.com’s scouting report on the young shortstop.
Russell rose up Draft boards in the spring of 2012 and has continued that upward trend in the Minor Leagues. He began the 2014 season with Double-A Midland, where he was the second-youngest player in the Texas League. While he missed most of the first half of the year with a hamstring injury, he returned to health in time to headline the package the Cubs acquired in exchange for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel on July 4.
Russell has established himself as one of the best shortstop prospects in baseball and erased any concerns about his long-term future at the position. He has the hands, range and arm strength needed to make stunning plays in the field.
Russell uses the whole field to hit, and his quick hands enable him to make consistent hard contact. He has surprising pop and could develop above-average power in the future. He isn’t a speedster, but he gets the most out of his solid speed, and he’s aggressive on the base paths.
Here are some of Russell’s at-bats in the Arizona Fall league last year.
The one problem with bringing in another high-profile shortstop is now there is a surplus at the position. The Cubs already have 24-year-old Starlin Castro up with the Major League club. Castro is having a bounce back year after struggling for the first time in his young career last season. Then there’s the No. 7 overall prospect in Javier Baez who is down in Triple-A Iowa and is expected to be called up next year.
It’s been rumored ever since Castro made his debut in 2010 that he will be moved elsewhere on the field. Maybe he could make the transition to second base when it’s time for Russell to come up. Baez will most likely have to play in the outfield now. Epstein told ESPN Chicago Saturday that he is confident Baez can play multiple positions.
“We feel Javier Baez is a shortstop but we’re also confident he can play second base or third base or the outfield if he has to,” said Epstein.
The No. 8 overall prospect and last year’s No. 2 overall draft pick Kris Bryant plays the hot corner and will most likely stay at third when he comes up next season.
It’s definitely a good problem for Epstein and Hoyer to have. It almost guarantees the Cubs will be ready to make the next step and become contenders in the not-so-distant future.
For Cubs fans, that’s music to their collective ears.