You've no doubt heard by now that the Cubs traded both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland for Addison Russell, Billy McKinney and Dan Straily. There appears to be a player to be named later involved as well, although that's not been officially confirmed.
This is a gutsy deal from the two most famous executives in the game. Athletics general manager Billy Beane bet it all on black with this move, trading the only elite prospect he had and then tossing in the second-best prospect in the system for good measure. But the move makes perfect sense for Oakland. Beane knows that he only has a short time with the players he currently has before they get too expensive and he has to deal them and start over. The A's have the best record in baseball, but his rotation had two massive holes blown into it in spring training when Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin both underwent Tommy John surgery.
This deal makes more sense for Oakland than a deal with Tampa Bay for David Price would. For one, Price makes a lot more money than Samardzija and Tampa Bay is not in the habit of eating salary to trade a player. Oakland might not be able to afford Price next year, but might be able to swing Samardzija's salary. But also, the Cubs could offer Jason Hammel, thus filling the two holes in the rotation instead of one.
The cost of this deal was extremely high, but it's one they had to make. If Oakland wins the World Series this year (and you have to say they're the favorites), then it's all worth it.
In Russell, the Cubs are getting the type of player that I just love: a guy with a broad range of skills who does everything well. He's got a quick bat that can drive the ball to all fields. He's not a power hitter, but he'll hit the ball hard and on the line and enough of those will go over the fence. He likes to go deep into counts and while that leads to a fair number of strikeouts, it also leads to a lot of walks too. He's got very good speed and he stole 21 bases in 24 attempts last season.
Defensively, Russell is smooth and sure-handed. Of all the Cubs' shortstops, Russell is likely the strongest defensively. If you ask me which player should be the Cubs starting shortstop in 2016, I'd say it should be Russell. Starlin Castro and Javier Baez should have to move.
From all accounts, Russell is a good, hardworking kid, mature well beyond his age of 20. If I had to use one word to describe Russell, I'd say he's smart. He's a guy who keeps himself under control, knows what he can and can't do and almost always knows where he's supposed to be. Honestly, he reminds me a bit like Ryne Sandberg in that sense. (I'm not hanging a Sandberg comp on Russell, but the more I think about it, there are a lot of similarities.)
Russell has missed most of this season with a hamstring injury, but he's been back playing for about a month now. He was promoted to Double-A on June 17, and at only 20 years old, Russell has gone 16 for 48 with eight walks and a home run for Midland.
As others have mentioned, he was a teammate of Kris Bryant and Albert Almora (among others) in the Arizona Fall League last year. He's already Tweeted out how happy he is to be a teammate of Bryant's once again.
The outfielder the Cubs got in the deal is Billy McKinney, who was the A's first round pick last year and a solid prospect. He was the number two prospect in the Athletics system last year, although he doesn't make my Cubs Top Ten list. That's not a knock on McKinney. That's a statement of how strong the Cubs system is right now.
McKinney's not a tools monster, but he's not just a guy who gets by on baseball instincts and hustle either. (Although he does that too.) Once again, they draft smart baseball players in the A's system, and McKinney is another one. He's not going to hit 30 home runs or bat .300, but he has excellent plate discipline that should keep his OBP high and he should be able to reach the seats around 20 times a season. He's left-handed, so that's a plus when you consider how many right-handed bats there are in our system.
Oakland challenged McKinney this season by having him skip the Midwest League and go straight to the High-A California League. At just 19, he's found High-A to be challenging, although he's managed to hold his own. In 75 games for Stockton, McKinney has hit .241/.330/.400 with 10 home runs. Baseball America compared him to Mark Kotsay in their pre-season guide, and that sounds about right. Kotsay was a pretty solid ballplayer in his prime and that's the word I'd use to describe McKinney. Solid.
Dan Straily was a 24th-round draft pick in 2009 who came out of nowhere in 2012 and pitched his way into the A's rotation by the end of the year. In 2013 he was a bright spot in Oakland's starting rotation and he finished 4th in AL Rookie of the Year balloting. This year, he lost about 3 MPH on his fastball for some reason and he now sits at 88 MPH instead of 91. That's led to a lot of home runs and a demotion to Triple-A Sacramento. The strikeout and walk numbers are still good (although his walks are up a tad) and the batting average against is fine. He just needs to keep the ball in the ballpark, and maybe figure out what happened to those three miles an hour.
So where does this leave us? For one, it leaves the Cubs with the best farm system in baseball. Baseball America is coming out with their mid-season Top 50 prospects on Thursday, but in their writeup of this deal, they said that Addison Russell will be ranked as the No. 5 prospect in all of baseball. You simply can't turn something like that down for Samardzija, even if shortstop was not a position of need for the Cubs.
In case you were wondering, Kris Bryant will be the No. 2 prospect and Javier Baez will be No. 7. Yep, the Cubs got someone they ranked higher than Javy Baez for Jeff Samardzija.
As far as the logjam in the infield goes, that's going to be a question for another time. Baez will continue to play shortstop for Iowa and Bryant will continue to play third. Russell will play shortstop for Tennessee. Even though the three of them are all Top Ten prospects, the odds are against all three of them becoming major league stars. But assuming that they all do, the Cubs will make room. Russell could play shortstop, Baez could move to third, Castro to second, Bryant to right and Arismendy Alcantara can move to center field. Or come up with your own moves based on your own preferences.
Of course, the other option is to make a deal. There's already speculation (from, among others, Jon Heyman no less) that the Cubs deal one infielder to the Mets for Noah Syndergaard, which would give the Cubs the frontline starter they need and the Mets the shortstop they haven't been able to find since Jose Reyes left town. At this point, this is all speculation. The Cubs could even trade Starlin Castro, who is under a team-friendly contract that would make him very attractive to several teams.
I can't think of a single pitching prospect in the game that I'd trade Addison Russell for, however. A pair of top pitching prospects? Maybe.
With this trade and half a season under our belts, I'll give you my new top ten prospects in the Cubs system.
- Kris Bryant
- Javier Baez
- Addison Russell
- Arismendy Alcantara
- Albert Almora
- Kyle Schwarber
- Jorge Soler
- C.J. Edwards
- Eloy Jimenez
- Pierce Johnson
McKinney checks in at number 11 for me. That's pretty sick. He was legitimately the No. 2 prospect in the A's system.
I'm sticking with Baez over Russell for now, simply because I've seen a different Javy Baez over the past three weeks at the plate. If he is able to keep that swing of his under control, there is no prospect in baseball with a higher ceiling than Baez, and that includes Bryant. But I love Russell and if you want to let me rank them both in a tie for second, I'd do that. But if I have to choose, I'd take Baez today. Ask me again tomorrow and you might get a different answer.
This is how good the Cubs system is. There are at least 26 other teams that would have Addison Russell as their number one prospect.
I've made no secret of the fact that I still strongly believe in Almora and I will take his broad-based skill set over Schwarber's considerable ability with a bat in his hands. That's not a knock on Schwarber, but rather a statement of how I feel about Almora. If Schwarber does what he's doing at Kane County this year in Tennessee next season, I'm likely to change my mind.
The reports on Jimenez out of Arizona have been extremely encouraging. I may have him ranked too low.
Yes, if all these players turn out to be as good as we hope, there are going to be some tough roster decisions in the years ahead. There will be tough decisions even if they don't all turn out. But when you have this much talent and this many highly-regarded prospects, it's nearly impossible that at least two or three of them won't turn into stars. It's not out of the question that more than that will succeed.
See you in the 2017 World Series, Houston. The Cubs will be defending their title.