Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

The club with the best record in the American League just got better. The Oakland Athletics have acquired right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs to more than bolster their starting rotation and set them up for a deep run into October. There’s no question the A’s improve significantly with this trade, but that improvement comes at great cost, especially considering Hammel is under contract only for the rest of this year and Samardzija is set to hit free agency after next season.

Hammel has experience in the American League and enough stuff to give No. 4 starter innings for the next three months. Samardzija is the real prize for Oakland, bringing top-shelf stuff to the Bay Area where his home ballpark will only help him and his ability to miss bats with a 93-96 mph two-seam fastball and two plus secondary pitches, including a mid-80s splitter and slider that each induce swings and misses.

Samardzija throws strikes consistently, is durable, reliable and has improved his ability to get ground ball outs and keep the ball in the yard.

Samardzija gives the Athletics a pitching advantage in most series the rest of the season, but it’s his presence in October that may pay the largest dividends.

The A’s have lacked a shutdown ace in year’s past, and they now may have two in Samardzija and Sonny Gray, enabling them to match up well in a playoff series of any length and versus any opponent.

The Cubs will receive outfielder Billy McKinney, right-hander Dan Straily and shortstop Addison Russell. Russell is the centerpiece as a future star that projects to stick at shortstop and provide middle-of-the-order production. Clearly, the A’s have decided to take a shot at winning a World Series.

Russell is among the top 5-10 prospects in baseball and is expected to break into the big leagues by next June, if not later this season. The Cubs now boast four left-side infielders for the long term in Russell, Starlin Castro and prospects Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. Bryant could ultimately move to right field and Castro may be better suited for third base down the line.

McKinney is a few years away from the big leagues but possesses a solid hit tool and projects well in left field as a Jacque Jones type player.

The Cubs have one of the most impressive crops of young, developing talent in all of baseball, or in recent memory for that matter, and lack only starting pitching on which to build a contending club.

Athletics GM Billy Beance once again proves he’s not afraid to trade away young talent if it makes his club better, and don’t be surprised if they use Samardzija for the rest of this season and shop him over the winter to add a few players they might need for 2015 and beyond.

The Cubs are clear winners in this trade, but the A’s didn’t come up empty-handed, and if they get deep into the postseason on the strength of Samardzija’s arm, this deal evens out a little more.

Impact On Mariners
This trade doesn’t impact much the chances the Seattle Mariners make the postseason or at least stay in the race deep into the summer. Yes, they’ll likely face Samardzija and Hammel rather than two lesser starting pitchers once or twice between now and the end of the regular season, but despite the fact they are within shouting distance of the As in the AL West, the M’s aren’t in second place and are much more likely to make the playoffs via one of the two Wild Card berths. And yes, the M’s could use a mid-rotation starter.

It would have been more damaging, however, had the Baltimore Orioles or Toronto Blue Jays acquired an impact starting pitcher, or if the Kansas City Royals added a hitter the M’s could use, since those clubs are Wild Card contenders. The end-result here is that winning the division just became much more difficult for the M’s and Angels, but the Wild Card race still is very much the same.

With Samardzija off the market, however, the Blue Jays and Orioles now have fewer options, so in that light this trade assists the Mariners’ efforts.

Domino Effect?
The Cubs-Athletics deal may set off some other deals, particularly in terms of starting pitching. Among the names expected to be discussed this month include Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Brandon McCarthy, New York Mets righty Bartolo Colon, Cubs right-hander Edwin Jackson, right-hander Ian Kennedy of the San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay lefty David Price, southpaw Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies and perhaps Cleveland right-hander Justin Masterson.

Since there are far fewer hitters expected to be trade available and almost zero impact bats among them, that market may not open up until after the All-Star break later this month.

Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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