Last night was filled with more than Independence Day fireworks. There were fireworks that rocked the world of baseball and the entire foundation of the Chicago Cubs and their fans.
While I was enjoying my night at Arlington Park Race Track watching one of the best firework displays I have ever seen, news started leaking out about a possible trade between the Cubs and the Oakland Athletics for Jason Hammel and/or Jeff Samardzija with Addison Russell coming back in a deal. With Russell being the top prospect for the Athletics, you knew that if he was in the deal, Samardzija would have to be as well. Even with that being the case, you would have hoped the Cubs would get more than just him back, even if he is a top 10 prospect in all of baseball.
Then, news became official that a deal had been reached and the Cubs would be sending both Samardzija and Hammel to the Cubs for a package which was built around Russell. Both Dan Straily and Billy McKinney with a possible player to be named later who has been rumored to be Raul Alcantara.
The reactions that have been flying around FaceBook and Twitter have been quite amusing, and have flown across the entire spectrum from “Theo is an idiot” to “greatest trade ever made”. With this deal standing alone, I am not sure I can give either one of those comments any more merit than simply mentioning that they were made. This trade does not make Theo Epstein an idiot, and this is so far from the greatest trade ever made that I cannot imagine how this was said with a straight face.
There were fans who were upset over the trade because they did not expect both starting pitchers to be traded. Unfortunately, both starting pitchers became a reality when Samardzija turned down the Cubs last offer of $17 Million a year for five years worth a grand total of $85 Million. I have gone on record saying I believe that was a very fair offer because Samardzija (despite his own claims) is not an ace pitcher. He is a two or a three at best, and $17 Million is about right for what a pitcher filling that slot would make. He either wanted more money or a sixth year, but we will never know because he did not make a counter offer after he turned down the Cubs contract offer.
Hammel, you had to know from the get go that he was going to be traded. You should not be shocked at all that the Cubs wanted to trade him as fast as they could. He is a 31 year old pitcher who is having a career year on a one year deal. He gave the Cubs the greatest present he ever could have given them and their fans. He got us a great package of players that will help the Cubs in the long run.
I will say that I am surprised that the Cubs traded both pitchers in the same deal though. I thought the Cubs would move Hammel in a deal and then move Samardzija to keep him one of the main targets on the market right behind David Price who the Tampa Bay Rays are said to be shopping.
Initially, looking at this deal I thought that the return was small, even if Russell is one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Four players for two pitchers who are pitching very well this year does seem as though the Cubs came out of the deal on the lesser end, but then I slept on things and gave the trade some thought. Overall, I think that the Cubs came out pretty well, and I agree with fellow World Series Dreaming writer Rice Cube that the deal is at worst is a wash.
Samardzija was going to bring back a good return, and Russell is a very nice return as the center piece even though he is not the pitcher most of us expected to get in return in any deal involving Samardzija. Add in Straily and things get a little more reasonable, but still not quite what I expected. Straily is a decent pitcher who might not be everything the Athletics thought he would be, but Jake Arrieta was not everything the Baltimore Orioles was either, and look how that turned out. Perhaps Straily is this years Arrieta. If that turns out to be the case, the Cubs won that portion of the deal; especially if Alcantara is the rumored player to be named later.
With Hammel, as I have already said, he is 31 years old having a career year. We also know that he struggles to pitch in the American League, so we will see just how long this magical run of his lasts. He was likely never going to bring back a lot so a return of the Athletic’s number one draft pick last year is more than we could have hoped for. McKinney is a solid outfield prospect who can be a very nice major league player when his time comes.
Breaking the trade down into a this player for these guys and that player for him, reading up on who they are and what they are capable of I like the trade even more. I am still a little disappointed that the Cubs did not get more than they did, because I thought they would have gotten more when you combined the return for both Samardzija and Hammel. Then I remembered, General Managers are not stupid. They will not let a good season or a few good starts soak them for all of their great prospects. They take all things into consideration when making a franchise altering deal.
Before coming to the Cubs, Hammel was 49-59 with an ERA of 4.80 of 1.44; which is long ways from what he is doing this year with an ERA a tick under three and a whip barely over one. Athletics GM Billy Beane knows this about Hammel but is gambling that this magical run of his will continue and that he will not revert to what he was last year with the Orioles when he had an ERA near five and a whip near 1.50.
With Samardzija, while he is having a simply fantastic year, you need to remember that this is also a career year for him. Before this year, he was 29-35 with an ERA of 4.19 and a whip of 1.35. This season he is 2-7 with a 2.83 ERA and a WHIP of 1.204, which is miles ahead of his stat line last year of a 4.34 ERA and a WHIP 1.348.
Fans tend to fall in love with a player who is having success in the moment, and forget about what they have done in their careers. Looking at his career as a whole, $17 Million a year for Samardzija is a generous offer, but if you focus in on this season alone, then yes, he can make a lot more on the open market or bring back a lot in a trade. Hammel has been an average at best pitcher his whole career, one really good season will not chance what he is. By the end of the year, his numbers will likely even out and he will revert back to his career norms; which is very likely since he is going back to the American League where he has had less than great success.
The deal is done, and the fallout will continue to roll in over the next few days, and throughout the season I am sure. But this is far too early to call this deal a win or a loss. I know you get tired of hearing this, but you need to have patience. Let the deal play out before passing judgement. Most fans are upset that the Cubs traded their best two pitchers when the team seemed to be getting hot and back into contention. What they fail to realize, is that even with Samardzija and Hammel, chances they actually continued this hot streak and got back into contention were slim; not impossible, but slim.
Embrace the wait. I guarantee next season and those there after are going to be a lot of fun.