A's add Samardzija in blockbuster deal with Cubs
GM Beane willing to deal two pieces of future to improve starting staff for 2014, '15
OAKLAND -- The A's have pulled off a blockbuster deal, acquiring Cubs starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel at the cost of two former first-round Draft picks in Addison Russell and Billy McKinney.
Oakland also packaged right-hander Dan Straily in the deal that kicked off trading season with a bang, and Chicago will be receiving another player to be named later.
For now, this is certain: One of baseball's best pitching staffs, belonging to baseball's best teams, just got better -- and a month before the Trade Deadline, no less, with A's vice president and general manager Billy Beane wanting to immediately reap the benefits of such a costly deal.
"This was an area a few weeks ago we absolutely felt like we had to address," Beane said Saturday morning. "Really started the process of trying to find at least one guy and ultimately decided we needed two guys … We thought they were two of the best guys available."
Samardzija, carrying a 2.83 ERA, and Hammel, no slouch with a 2.98 mark, will join an A's rotation led by Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray. One of Tommy Milone or Jesse Chavez will remain in the five-man mix, with the odd man out perhaps transitioning into a long-relief role in the bullpen. Brad Mills, acquired just two weeks ago for all of $1, will likely be designated for assignment.
But the club wasn't expected to discuss any decisions until Saturday afternoon, with internal discussions still under way throughout the morning. Samardzija will be at the O.co Coliseum on Saturday, and he's expected to make his A's debut Sunday against the Blue Jays in place of the scheduled starter Mills. Hammel, who pitched just Friday, will take an extra day to be with his pregnant wife and then join the club Sunday.
Russell, the club's top Draft pick two years ago, was long considered the A's shortstop of the future, with a plan in place for him to be there as soon as next season following Jed Lowrie's expected departure via free agency. But the A's willingness to part ways with their top-ranked prospect and the No. 11-ranked prospect in baseball by MLB.com, despite his superstar potential, to land a pair of short-term rotation fixes only demonstrates Beane's burning desire to win now.
"[Beane] was very courageous and very convicted about what he's trying to do," said Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations. "He probably already had the best team in baseball and made them a lot better -- getting two outstanding pitchers -- and [he] put his team in a position to win the World Series. That is something I really admire. There's a lot of hesitation in the game these days with respect to giving up impact young players, and he knew what he wanted to get and wasn't afraid, and it was great to deal with him."
In Beane's 16 seasons as the general manger, the A's have advanced to the postseason seven times but made it to the American League Championship Series only once. Just nine months ago, they were bounced from the AL Division Series in Game 5 at the hands of the Tigers for a second consecutive year, resulting in familiar heartache.
Fast forward to Friday. At 53-33, Beane's A's exited the Fourth of July with the Majors' best record for a 17th consecutive day. Come Saturday, they'll pose as an even greater threat, following a not-so-subtle move that proves just how determined they are to achieve what's expected of them.
But Beane made very clear Saturday that these moves were not made for postseason play, despite Justin Verlander telling Tigers reporters, "When I saw that trade, I thought that they made that trade [in preparation for facing] us. No doubt about it in my mind."
The A's entered play Saturday with a 3 1/2 -game lead on the Angels. Seattle is six games back of first place.
"I think it would be a bit arrogant and presumptuous to think this is a postseason move when we've got two teams behind us that are very, very good teams that aren't going to go away," said Beane. "Right now, we have a tremendous amount of respect for the talent that the Mariners and Angels have. Our priority is to win the division first, and then we'll worry about the postseason.
"I don't feel comfortable talking about October in July, when you have Mike Trout hitting game-winning homers every other night."
Samardzija, 29 and eligible for free agency after 2015, was in the midst of his seventh season with the Cubs, posting a .245 opponents' average and 103 strikeouts next to 31 walks in 108 innings spanning 17 starts. The 31-year-old Hammel has a 1.01 WHIP and 97 strikeouts with only 21 walks in 102 2/3 innings in 16 starts, his most recent one coming Friday. He's eligible for free agency at the end of this season.
Russell was hitting .333 with a .939 OPS in 13 games for Double-A Midland after spending much of the first half of the season shelved by a hamstring tear. He's the only reason Epstein was willing to part ways with a pair of frontline starters.
"Addison is a great prospect, one of the best we've had since I've been here," said Beane. "He's going to be a great player. But that's the cost of doing business when you're going after two pitchers of this caliber at this time of year.
"We've got two division titles, we're going to do everything we can to make it three. We've got a team that can win right now. Collecting young players is really not something in our marketplace we're capable of doing. We have to take every window of opportunity and grasp it."
The A's have now traded five of their last nine top Draft picks, including 2013 selection McKinney, who was hitting .241 for Class-A Advanced Stockton. Straily, who posted a 4.11 ERA in 41 career starts for the A's, was pitching to the tune of a 4.71 ERA for Triple-A Sacramento following his May demotion.
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.