Jeff Samardzija (2-7, 2.83 ERA) is the centerpiece of the blockbuster deal between the A's and the Cubs. (David Banks / Getty Images)
Major League Baseball’s trade deadline still is nearly four weeks away.
But the first shot was fired stunningly early, late Friday night, in a deal that has analysts now calling the A’s the clear favorite to win the American League and the Cubs an on-the-rise team stockpiling promising pieces for a certain future winner.
According to multiple reports, but first reported by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi, the A’s acquired ace pitcher Jeff Samardzija and fellow right-handed starter Jason Hammel from the Cubs for top shortstop prospect Addison Russell and others.
The Cubs also appear to be getting right-handed pitcher Dan Straily, low-level outfield prospect Billy McKinney and a player to be named.
But the big piece for them was Russell, a 20-year-old shortstop who was the No. 11 overall pick by the A’s in 2012. Russell now gives the Cubs an massive stockpile of some of the game’s elite, young middle-infield prospects, along with Javier Baez.
The price for the Cubs was two elite starting pitchers, both with expiring contracts.
That’s what makes the deal so fascinating from the A’s perspective. Always so focused on the big, long-term picture, maybe, just maybe, two American League Division Series losses to the Tigers opened general Billy Beane’s eyes. The window to win, after all, doesn’t stay open forever.
Clearly, now, the A’s are going all-in for 2014. With the best record, pitching and offense, statistically, in all of baseball, a World Series title is within their grasp. So Beane made the bold call to go get Samardzija (2-7, 2.83 ERA) and Hammel (8-5, 2.98), despite not likely having anywhere near the funds it will require to keep either one of them much beyond 2014.
Samardzija is arbitration-eligible after this season — he’s looking at a $10 million salary for 2015 — and a free agent, and $100 million man, the year after that. Hammel, meanwhile, becomes a free agent after this season and could be in line for a deal in the $50-million range.
Samardzija, 29, is the centerpiece of the deal, no question. He now will anchor a rotation that already included Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Tommy Milone, Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz. Hammel adds to that fantastic depth, and theoretically could even be used as a trade chip by the A’s ahead of the deadline. Hammel, 31, is having a fine year, but also has had his struggles in the American League, particularly in 2013 with the Orioles, so he’s no sure bet to stick in Oakland.
Even so, there are some absolutely floored general managers throughout the rest of baseball, shocked that such a deal could go down so quickly, so far ahead of the trade deadline. There were no fewer than six to eight teams very interested in Samardzija, and very interested in paying dearly for him.
So if there’s an immediate winner, other than the A’s, it’s Rays general manager Andrew Friedman. All the teams that were going after Samardzija now likely will be calling Friedman in short order to inquire about his ace, David Price, who’s being actively shopped with Tampa Bay sitting well out of first in the AL East.
Price, 28, leads the league with 153 strikeouts, and is a hot commodity — especially considering he’s not a free agent until 2016. The left-hander goes for the Rays on Sunday night against the Tigers at Comerica Park, which, no question, will feature dozens of scouts sprinkled in among what should be a sellout crowd.