Recent results suggested that the Chicago Cubs might be in better shape than some people thought.
A four-game winning streak, including an impressive three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox highlighted by a 16-9 win in the finale, may have gotten the hopes of some fans up that this year was going to turn out better than expected, and that the great rebuilding plan hatched by Theo Epstein was cruising along faster than usual.
Epstein and the Cubs pumped the brakes hard on that Friday night, as starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were traded to the Oakland Athletics for Addison Russell, Dan Straily and Billy McKinney, who, according to numerous reports, are Oakland’s top three prospects.
In the interim, it sounds like an awful deal for the Cubs, one that will continue to relegate them to last place in the NL Central division, and likely one that will land the Cubs the worst record in the NL this season. But looking down the road, while the Cubs may have lost the deal for this season, it continues a brilliant trend being set by the Cubs’ front office.
Remember when the Cubs traded Matt Garza to the Texas Rangers? They got third baseman Mike Olt for him, who is already in the big leagues, along with pitcher Justin Grimm, who is in the Cubs’ bullpen currently. But in addition, they got pitching prospect C.J. Edwards, considered perhaps the gem of the deal.
In Friday’s deal, the Cubs got Russell, who is regarded as Oakland’s No. 1 prospect. Russell is a 20-year-0ld shortstop who is hitting .333 at triple-A Midland. Straily is a right-handed starting pitcher with 41 starts under his belt, along with 190 strikeouts and 230 innings, and should go into the Chicago rotation immediately.
Then there’s McKinney, a 19-year-old outfielder who has struggled a bit with his batting average (.241) since going to Class-A Stockton, but has started to show some power, with 10 homers in 333 at-bats.
Russell is the key to the deal, and he will eventually make things interesting in terms of what the Cubs do with current shortstop Starlin Castro, who seems to be revitalized this season. But that’s for the Cubs to worry about in the future, just like this entire trade.
It will be a bit frustrating for some Cubs fans who saw the team making progress lately and looking like a real professional baseball team for a change. But if anything, the recent success probably drove up the price for Samardzija and Hammel, as it made teams think perhaps the Cubs wouldn’t pull the trigger on a deal and they would have to offer more. Oakland certainly offered a lot.
This trade in the long run will be the right move. Hammel was having an amazing season, but it’s fair to wonder how long that was going to continue. Samardzija will likely excel in Oakland, but it’s unlikely the Cubs were going to be able to sign him to a long-term contract anyway, so getting a decent haul for him in a trade was the smart move.
Despite throwing in the towel on this season, the rebuilding project on the north side of Chicago is still very much in place, on track, and Friday’s trade will eventually prove to be another successful piece in the venture.