WASHINGTON — In a move that upstaged fireworks shows late Friday night, the Cubs traded two of the top available pitchers — Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel — to the Oakland Athletics in a 4-for-2 deal that returned the A’s top two prospects and promising young right-hander Dan Straily, sources confirmed.
The Cubs got shortstop Addison Russell, considered one of the top prospects in baseball this year, and Class A outfielder Billy McKinney, a 19-year-old left-handed hitter drafted in the first round last year. They also got a player to be named later.
Samardzija and Hammel have been the subjects of trade talks all season, and their departures are not a surprise. But the fact both went in one trade — especially nearly four weeks before the July 31 trading deadline — was a shocker to several industry sources.
The pitchers, too, were shocked when they were told they were headed to Oakland, one source said. Samardzija (2-7, 2.83 ERA) was scheduled to start Saturday against Washington. Carlos Villanueva is expected to take his place, with Chris Rusin on his way from Clas AAA Iowa for long relief.
And this appears to be only the beginning for the Cubs, who not only jump-started the trading season with this market-shaking move, but are now poised to make several more trades throughout the month and possibly into the winter, given the strength they’ve built in coveted middle-of-the-diamond players.
The Cubs could use their newfound depth of highly ranked position players to deal for the pitching they sorely lack in the system and now at the major-league level.
Russell could be flipped for pitching, with the New York Mets among teams pursuing the shortstop before the Cubs landed him. The Mets have several attractive young arms who are on the big-league club or close.
The Seattle Mariners, who also were in the hunt for Hammel, are said to be very interested in Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, although the Cubs won’t be quick to trade their two-time All-Star. The Mariners had one of their top evaluators, special assistant Pete Vuckovich, scouting Hammel’s start Friday in the Cubs’ 7-2 victory over the Washington Nationals and watching Castro have another two-hit game that included a double and pair of RBIs.
And the Cubs’ top-ranked prospect, Javy Baez, is another shortstop with potentially huge trade value. He has drawn interest from several teams, notably the Miami Marlins, though it would take a major haul to part with Baez.
Several other Cubs are drawing interest as the trade market heats up, with the Los Angeles Angels looking for relief help and following the Cubs in recent weeks with an eye on veteran left-hander James Russell, according to sources.
And outfielder Justin Ruggiano, Friday’s hitting star, has his average up to .271 with an .817 OPS during a hot streak that started as soon as he returned from an injury last month, and he could be the first position player to be traded.
At one point Friday, sources confirmed that the Cubs were working on a potential three-team deal that would have involved the Yankees, who learned this week that CC Sabathia will likely be lost for the year.
Straily was ranked second in the A’s system entering 2013, when he went 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 27 starts in the majors. He struggled this year after making the Opening Day roster and has spent most of the season at Class AAA Sacramento.
The deal gives the Cubs six of Baseball America’s top 41 prospects entering the season.