Go Big Or Go Home

To reinforce their rotation, the A's had to pay a very high price, starting with shortstop Addison Russell. (Getty Images)

To reinforce their rotation, the A's had to pay a very high price, starting with shortstop Addison Russell. (Getty Images)

Billy Beane isn’t going to rip everyone off. It isn’t 2002 anymore, and even if it was, Beane has never been a guy who needs to be clearly acing a trade in order to make it, no matter how Moneyball made it sound.

Late Friday night, the Oakland Athletics dealt shortstop prospect Addison Russell, outfield prospect Billy McKinney and pitcher Dan Straily to the Chicago Cubs for starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, bolstering a rotation that so far has gotten by on outstanding — and surprising — seasons from journeymen Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez, along with a strong first full season from young starter Sonny Gray. In return they gave up a promising Top-10 shortstop prospect in Russell, the No. 2 prospect in the Athletics organization (and last year’s first-round pick) in McKinney, and Straily, a guy best suited for being a swingman or depth starter at Triple-A, which is exactly where he will start off for the Cubs.

Obviously this move torpedoes the Cubs rotation in 2014, but there’s little question that Chicago general manager Jed Hoyer doesn’t see this season as his team’s battleground; he’s fighting for the future, the same way he always has. Russell and McKinney are a great return for a pair of older starting pitchers who are having great first halves but enough inconsistency in their records to wonder if they can keep them up. There are questions about whether or not Russell will stick at shortstop — he is potentially a third baseman at the major league level — and the middle infield is already a busy place for Chicago, with Starlin Castro cemented on the MLB roster through the end of the decade and prospect Javier Baez also claiming some future role on the team.

Baez, however, has severe questions about his long-term outlook not just as an infielder — he could probably do with a move to third base or right field himself — but as a major league player in general. He has been absolutely unimpressive for Triple-A Iowa this season, barely managing a .730 OPS in the hitter-friendly PCL, and he’s already struck out 103 times in 317 plate appearances. It’s not only sensible to have a fallback plan in Russell in case Baez turns out to be unable to make the leap in the way which Cubs fans are expecting, but it’s good to have redundancy like this in general. The only issue, of course, is that the Cubs still have no young pitching of note in the organization at or above A-ball outside of C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson, and neither of those two is anywhere near as impressive as the array of position player prospects Hoyer has drafted, signed, or dealt for. This is less of an issue if the new and improved Jake Arrieta is a legitimate ace at the top of the Chicago rotation, but we probably won’t know whether he’s just having one good season or whether he’s figured out something sustainable until sometime in 2015 (barring any earlier regression in his command and stuff).

From the Athletics’ perspective, Russell and McKinney is a high price to pay for the return — both are young guys who were drafted out of high school, but Russell was burning his way up the Athletics organization, and was projected to see some time in the majors in 2015 before he was dealt to Chicago. This is essentially an all-in move by Oakland to acquire pieces at an area of clear uncertainty for the club in a sellers’ market; they paid through the teeth for Samardzija and Hammel, but they got what they needed to complement Gray, Kazmir and Chavez. Trading with Oakland general manager Billy Beane has acquired a sort of mystical component over the years due to the breathless devotion of a certain subset of fans to the Michael Lewis book Moneyball and its portrayal of Beane as one of the shrewdest, most terrifyingly capable trade negotiators in the game, but Beane has never approached trades the way we discovered the current Houston Astros do recently, by asking for almost insultingly high returns on their trade pieces just to see if someone will say yes.

Beane is the guy who traded Carlos Gonzalez and Huston Street for Matt Holliday, and the guy who dealt Gio Gonzalez for a package whose notable pieces so far have been Tommy Milone and Derek Norris; he’s perfectly fine with the other team in a deal getting value so long as he accomplishes what he needs to accomplish. The real teams GMs should beware trading with are the Tampa Bay Rays and Detroit Tigers; it’s rare anything good comes out of swapping players with Andrew Friedman or Dave Dombrowski.

In the end, it’s a good trade for both sides, but one that could look bad for Oakland if Samardzija and Hammel immediately start pitching like they have in the past instead of continuing what they’ve done in the present. Chicago gets more good position player prospects and another reclamation project pitcher in Straily, while Oakland bolsters the one questionable unit on what is otherwise the best team in baseball. It will be interesting to see how the Angels and Mariners respond.

21 thoughts on “Go Big Or Go Home

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  2. Who exactly did Billy Beane rip off in 2002? Was it getting nothing for Carlos Pena? Was it getting nothing for Jeremy Bonderman? Or in 2003 when he got nothing for Aaron Harang? How about getting rid of Carlos Gonzalez? How about getting nothing for Nelson Cruz? How about getting nothing for Andre Ethier? I think the highlight of Billy Beane’s career has a book about how great he is – without any good deals or championships to back it up.

    • As I recall, Moneyball highlighted that Billy Beane consistently had the Oakland A’s having one of the top records in baseball from 1997-2002 despite having the 2nd lowest payroll in the league.

      The book clearly stated that the lack of money available to him meant that his teams were built to play the percentages of a 162 game regular season. But that he accepted that once the playoffs were reached, the format of fewer games meant that luck became a big factor for them if they were to win a championship because their lower payroll meant they couldn’t have the best players in the league.

    • ” without any good deals “?
      Seriously?
      The highlight of 2002 is probably getting Durham for a pitching prospect that amounted to nothing.
      After the 2002 season he turned Koch into Foulke

      He turned Ben Grieve into Damon and Mark Ellis
      He got Jermaine Dye for no prospect that ever amounted to anything.
      He turned Mulder into Haren and Calero who both were very useful
      Even more recently he traded a great pitcher in Gonzalez but he got a catcher in Norris that might be an All star and Milone has been pitching really well this year.

    • I think the highlight of Beane’s career is consistently winning games without spending a ton of money–in other words, in the only metrics that matter to a personnel guy–win value–he has consistently performed well.
      Nitpick all you want. It says more about you than it does about Beane.

  3. Will The Cubs now trade Starlin Castro? If they were smart they would keep him. Look at the combination they would have. Barney at 2nd, Castro at SS# and move Russell to 3rd.

    But if The New York Yankees were smart they would go after Castro now, since Jeter is going to retire.

    Look at there combination, Cano at 2nd and Castro at SS#

    • The Cubs do not want to trade with the talent=strapped Yankees. The yankees are done as a competitive franchise for 2-3 years. Big ticket free agents can no longer help them.

    • Why would the Cubs trade Castro or any of their shortstops? Newsflash – shortstops can play anywhere. Castro at 3rd, Russell at SS, and Baez at 2nd. Which pushes Alcantara to CF, where he can play, and Bryant to RF, which he can do, because he’s played in the outfield before. The Cubs don’t have to give the Yankees (or Mets for that matter) jack squat. It’s not like the Yankees have anything of worth to trade for, anyway.

  4. Barney is not long for Chicago. While his glove was and currently has been gold glove caliber his hitting is below the Mendoza line for the past 2 seasons. Arismendy Alcantara is raking at Triple A and is ready to take over 2nd base for years to come. Keep Castro and Russell and see who can play 3rd and move Baez to outfield, if Baez can find his stroke.
    By the way, the Yanks farm system is barren so a trade of Castro won’t happen.

    • I can see them trading Castro to the Yanks. They could take draft picks and maybe 1 or 2 “A” ballers. Getting rid of his contract and paving the way for one of our shortstop prospects makes some sense.

      • The Yankees get nothing from the Cubs. NOTHING. The Cubs can play their players wherever they want. They have many options when it comes to this. And the Yankees have nothing with which to trade with. Not a thing.

  5. Kris Bryant is the Cubs third baseman of the future. I don’t see how they can keep both Castro and Russell long term. Maybe they flip Russell for some pitching. They won’t contend until they get a few quality pitchers-you don’t win championships playing a ton of 10-9 games.

    • You do know Kris Bryant has played in the outfield before, yes? In HS and in college? He can shift to RF. There’s no logjam. That’s just what people say because they know jack squat about what the Cubs’ prospects can do.

      • So you’re going to move the one player who has been playing third his entire time as a pro so you can see if someone who hasn’t played the position before can? No way. At least not for a few years. Bryant is the third baseman of the future. Your implication that I know nothing about their players is laughable.

  6. The Oakland A’s knew exactly what they were doing. They strengthened their pitching staff in preparation for a run at the AL pennant, and here’s what Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander had to say: “They’re going to have to go through us.” In spite of the Tigers’ problems with Tampa Bay, they’re still on top in the AL Central, and they have to be ready. It’s going to be an interesting second half of the season.
    On another front, there’s been a lot of talk about Tampa Bay considering trading David Price. That would be one stupid mistake; if they were to trade their ace they’re as good as giving up, current standing notwithstanding. They need to hold on to him for as long as they can.