Big Picture – The Jeff Samardjiza/Jason Hammel Trade

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New Tennessee Smokie Addison Russell

There is no sitting on the fence on last night’s trade. Cub fans either hate the trade of pitchers Jeff Samardjiza and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s for SS Addison Russell, OF Billy McKinney, and pitcher Dan Straily, or they love it.

In the short term, the Cubs gave up a pitcher who was not going to re-sign with them when his contract ended. Samardjiza was going to test the free agent market, plain and simple. The Cubs were not willing to meet his price of over $100 million. As for Hammel, like Maholm and Feldman, he was given a chance to resurrect his career, which was on the outs, and now he will make millions of dollars when he is a free agent this fall. Hammel, already, has expressed and interest in returning to Chicago in 2015 and beyond. Hammel knew what he was getting into.

The frustrating part of this for Cubs fans is the team was playing well going 18-13 since the end of May. The odds of this team making the playoffs this year, even playing well, were/are nonexistent. This team can still play well and be competitive. I get that frustration. But what I don’t think those who are frustrated aren’t seeing is that the Samardjiza and Hammel trade signals the end of the rebuilding. It is all up from here. If all you are seeing is wins and losses at the big league level, you don’t get it. If you don’t like what is happening because you have season tickets, no one forced you to buy season tickets. If you didn’t know what you were getting by buying season tickets, then that’s on you.

Questions to Answer
1. Who will fill those 30 starts this year?
Today, Carlos Villanueva will fill in Samardjiza’s spot. Villanueva, with his ability to fill in as a starter and work in the pen, is likely to be shipped this month. Luckily, there are other arms to fill in. Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, Eric Jockisch, Chris Rusin, and Dallas Beeler will all get starts to see what they can do. Wada, recently added to the 40 man roster, as a veteran lefty will be up with Rusin to begin with as they have the most experience. It would not surprise me to see a shuttle back and forth to Des Moines. Straily will likely go to Iowa and work on some issues there before coming to Chicago.

2. Who will fill those 70 starts next year year?
Four names jump out at me – Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, Justin Masterson, and Brett Anderson. I look for the Cubs to sign one of those names to a long term deal with Anderson being the youngest and most likely get. I also expect the Cubs to develop young arms mentioned above in the previous paragraph. Edwin Jackson, with two years of control could be shipped along with some money. I don’t think anyone is going to scream about that. But, as witnessed on Tuesday, Jackson does have the capability to pitch well, I feel his issues are all mental.

If there is one thing the Cubs have been able to do is to bring in pitchers, simplify their approaches, and thus rebuild their careers. It has worked for Maholm, Hammel, and Feldman. It has even worked with the bullpen with Neil Ramirez. Hector Rondon, and to some extent, Pedro Strop. As long as the Cubs have Chris Bosio as pitching coach, I would not worry about pitching. The pitchers have great pro scouting reports and Castillo and John Baker both have shown they can call a good game based on those pro scouting reports.

3. Don’t the Cubs have enough shortstops?
Obviously, you’re not a golfer. Anyone who has coached baseball knows that the best athlete on your baseball team is placed in one of two spots – center field and shortstop. If you can play either, you can play anywhere. Just because Russell, Baez, and Castro are all shortstops now, does not mean they will be in the future. Baez, with his pop, could slide to third or second and fit nicely with his bat. The same is true of Russell. A shortstop now is not necessarily a shortstop in the future.

4. Why Addison Russell?
The same Cub fans who clamor for Baez and Bryant to get called up will soon do the same for Russell. Ranked in the top ten on most prospect lists, Russell is on a par with Baez and Bryant. JJ Cooper of Baseball America said this of Russell:

Russell has strength and explosive bat speed, and scouts project him as an above-average hitter with at least average power. His athletic ability, arm strength and quickness all suit him well to the middle of the diamond. He missed most of the first half of the season with a hamstring injury, but he returned to action June 8 and has spent the season at Double-A Midland.

5. What about winning at the Big League Level?
Have you seen what is coming? I am convinced that next year is when the Cubs stop the mid-season firesales and begin having those prospects debut early and often. Bryant, Baez, and Alcantara are nearly ready. When they debut next year, then the major league club gets an extra year of control. Is two and a half months this year of Bryant and Baez worth losing them for two years while they are in their prime? I don’t think it is. Keep them down on the farm in Iowa for the rest of the year. Let them see all kinds of pitching, learn how to build books on guys, and be ready to succeed in 2015 in Chicago.

6. What will the 2015 lineup look like?
It will look like you should have held on to your season tickets instead of jumping ship.
LF – Coghlan/Ruggiano
CF – Alcantara
RF – Bryant
3B – Olt/Valbuena
SS – Castro
2B – Baez
1B – Rizzo
C – Castillo
SP – Arrieta, Free Agent or two (I prefer Hammel and Anderson but Lester would be great), Wood, Jackson, Hendricks/Beeler/Rusin/Straily (pick one)

That’s a pretty potent lineup! I would pay to see that. And the pitching is not that bad. With most of the bullpen returning and possibly adding Arodys Vizcaino, Armando Rivero, Marcus Hatley, and Blake Parker coming up or in reserve, I think the games easily turn into six inning affairs next year.

Here’s the bottom line for me: Jeff Samradjiza is a nice pitcher, but he is not an ace. But you got “ace value” for him; and you now have that prospect and two others through 2021. Theo and Jed maximized above market value in return and got the most valuable commodity in an age of pitching – hitting.

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