The Athletics are officially all in. With the best record in baseball and hoping to finally advance past the second round of the playoffs, Oakland has struck a deal with the Cubs, acquring veteran starters Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija in exchange for top minor league shorstop Addison Russell, fellow prospect Billy McKinney, and pitcher Dan Straily.
Billy Beane has now armed himself with two of the best pitchers in the National League this season. Samardzija may be just 2-7, but that is almost entirely product of Chicago’s fruitless offense. The 27 year old starter owns a 2.83 ERA and has struck out nearly a batter per inning through 17 starts. Hammel has been just as good, with a 7-2 record, an ERA of 2.98 and a 1.8 BB/9.
But the price was steep. Russell is not just the Athletics’ best prospect, he is one of the most talented players in all of minor league baseball. Baseball America ranked him as the 14th overall prospect in baseball and ESPN’s Keith Law was even higher on him, pegging the 20 year old at #5 last month, even as he sat out for much of the year with a torn hamstring.
Russell returned from that leg injury two weeks ago and has been impressive since. In 13 games for Double-A Midland, he is hitting .333/.439/.500 with one home run, eight RBIs, and three stolen bases.
General managers are usually quite hesitant to trade their top youngsters and prospects of this caliber are rarely traded. When they are moved, it is almost exclusively for superstar-level talents. Last year, Wil Myers was sent shipped to Tampa Bay for James Shields. The year before that, the Yankees shipped Jesus Montero to Seattle for Michael Pineda, who at the time was coming off a stellar rookie campaign and appeared to have Cy Young upside.
In the scouting reports compiled by ESPN, Baseball America, and MLB.com, Addison Russell is considered to offer the full package at short. Barrell chested and muscular – though not as much as he used to be – Russell is a bit big and slow for the position, but he compensates with his arm, insticts, and “some of the best hands, both in the field and at the plate” ESPN.com’s Keith Law has ever scouted. At the plate, he spreads the ball around the field with hard contact that often yields extra-base power. An intelligent hitter, he walks more than almost any hitter his age and subsequently gets on base at a high rate.
In terms of talent level or proximity to the majors, Billy McKinney, pales in comparison to Russell, though he’s nothing to scoff at. Taken out of high school with the 24th pick in last year’s draft, the teenage outfielder has tremendous upside at the plate. He’s got potential twenty to thirty homerun power and could hit .300, if not more, in the majors. He doesn’t offer much in the field, though. He was manning center for High-A Stockton before the trade, but he will certainly move to a corner within the next couple seasons. Playing as one of the youngest players in the Carolina League, McKinney held his own, hitting .241/.330/.400 with 10 home runs. He was ranked by MLB.com as the A’s second best prospect.
Straily, 25, finished 10-8 last season and 4th in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting and will replace Samardzija in the Cubs’ rotation. But he has struggled in limited time this season, with a 4.93 ERA and a slightly negative WAR through seven starts. He has a live fastball and a prospect pedigree, though. Chicago’s newest starter was named the 85th best prospect in the game by Baseball Prospectus after the 2012 season.
15 years as a general manager, 11 winning season, 8 ninety win seasons, 7 playoff berths, and not a single ring to show for it. Billy beane is hungry – and determined. He’s traded away his top three prospects and a promising young starter since last December in pursuit of the title. Only Time will tell if they get one