Rumors had been rampant about the Cubs dealing Jeff Samardzija at some point this summer. Now it appears to be official -- though neither club has announced nor confirmed the deal -- as the Cubs sent both their ace Samardzija and right-hander Jason Hammel to the A's for prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, as well as young right-hander Dan Straily.
The prize in the deal is Russell, who was ranked No. 1 on the A's Top 20 prospects list and No. 11 on the overall Top 100. The No. 4 shortstop prospect in the Minors, Russell had recently returned from a torn hamstring and had an eight-game hitting streak going at the time of the trade.
Down in the farm
|Albert Almora||14||Class A Advanced|
|Jorge Soler||41||Arizona Rookie League|
Russell, taken No. 11 overall in the 2012 Draft, has been on a fast track ever since signing with the A's. The Florida high school product had what most considered to be the best summer debut of anyone in his Draft class, then handled an aggressive full-season assignment to the Class A Advanced California League with aplomb. The youngest player in the circuit on Opening Day, Russell bounced back from a slow start, went to the Futures Game and made a late appearance with Triple-A Sacramento before ending the year in the Arizona Fall League -- again against much older competition.
Russell was off to a hot start again in 2014 in the Double-A Texas League, at age 20, before getting hurt. It appeared as if he was taking off again upon his return. Russell has established himself as one of the best all-around shortstop prospects in the game, and one who will undoubtedly stay at the premier position. His hands, range and arm strength all work extremely well there. He runs well, hits to all fields and is just starting to tap into his raw power.
While he can go to Double-A for the remainder of the 2014 season, the Cubs will have to do something to clear the infield logjam they've created. One level ahead of Russell, of course, is Javier Baez, who is currently ranked as the No. 1 shortstop in the Minors. There has long been talk about Baez eventually changing positions, and this trade could perhaps be the catalyst. A Cubs lineup with Russell at short, Kris Bryant at third, Arismendy Alcantara at second and Baez in right field has a nice ring to it. Or Baez could move to third and Bryant could switch to an outfield corner -- something he did while in college.
Russell wasn't the only return for the Cubs. They also received McKinney, who was the A's No. 2 prospect when the deal went down. The young outfielder -- the No. 24 pick in the 2013 Draft -- was on the same development path as Russell, going straight to the California League for his first full season. Equipped with a sweet swing from the left side of the plate, McKinney was even following the same script as Russell, starting slow and then making adjustments, hitting .292/.314/.458 in June. An average runner with similar defensive tools, McKinney maximizes his ability with an aggressive mentality and plus makeup.
Straily is far from a throw-away. Just 25 years old, the right-hander jumped on the prospect radar in 2012 when he began the year in Double-A and finished it in the big leagues. Straily led the Minors in strikeouts that year, and then made seven effective starts with Oakland down the stretch. In 2012, he won 10 games, finishing with a 3.96 ERA and a fourth-place finish in American League Rookie of the Year voting. He began the 2014 season in the A's rotation, but was sent down in early May as he struggled with his command, particularly within the strike zone.
When he's on, Straily has outstanding command of a four-pitch mix: a fastball that can touch 94 mph, both a slider and curve, and a changeup that can elicit swings and misses. He's still missing plenty of bats -- he had a 9.6 K/9 ratio in 10 Triple-A starts -- but he'll have to re-find his command to have consistent success. A change of scenery might do him some good, and the Cubs get a young starter they can plug into their rotation immediately and who isn't even arbitration-eligible until 2016.