We are on the cusp of seeing all of the work that the superteam of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have done with the Chicago Cubs pay off, but they had one more trick up their sleeve for the final major trade piece before this rebuild could really turn a corner. As the Cubs dangled Jeff Samardzija in trade rumors, it was just a matter of time before they saw a significant prospect come to Chicago in return for the starter.
We just didn’t think it would be of this caliber.
The Cubs were dangling both Samardzija and Jason Hammel, both of which were looked at as guys that could help the Cubs stack their farm system up just a bit more before they head into a 2015 season that could see them become competitive before 2016 when they’re really expected to take off. The Cubs made out better than expected ind ealing Shark and Hammel to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Addison Russell, outfield prospect Billy McKinney, and pitcher Dan Straily.
Russell is a tremendous get for the Cubs. Yes, he’s a shortstop. Yes, the Cubs already have shortstops, but he’s looked at as a potential no. 6 prospect in baseball. That’s value that no one expected. It would give the Cubs three of the top six prospects in the game, which is absurd. Kris Bryant and Javy Baez represent the others, of course.
McKinney is only 19 and in High-A ball right now, but was the A’s no. 2 prospect. He’s not a speedster in centerfield, but is a good defender and drives the ball well. Additionally, he’s demonstrated an ability to get on base. He was Oakland’s first round pick last year, so they were obviously high on him. He still has a couple years to go before we even think about seeing him at the big league level.
In Dan Straily, the Cubs get a guy that has fallen on some hard luck this year. He’s bounced back and forth between the minors and the big leagues, but the Cubs have had some serious luck in grabbing change of scenery guys and having them excel in their rotation (Travis Wood, Jake Arrieta). While Straily will start his Cubs tenure at Iowa, he has decent upside and could be a nice backend piece in their starting five.
But obviously the major coup here is Addison Russell. A potential superstar, Russell is a decent fielder at short, but it’s what he does with the bat that makes him really impressive. He can drive the ball, hitting for both average and power, while also demonstrating an ability to steal some bases, something this current Cubs team lacks. Of course, many will look at his position and wonder why the Cubs needed another shortstop in their system that is already loaded with middle infielders.
Starlin Castro has been terrific for the Cubs this year and will likely be an All Star. Javy Baez is looked at as their top prospect, or second best prospect behind Bryant (or was prior to the acquisition of Russell). Castro hasn’t showcased the greatest fielding ability in his time with the Cubs, though, and there’s been plenty of talk about Baez moving over to second base. There are so many different ways the Cubs could go here.
Do you move Castro to somewhere like centerfield? He has the arm for it. That would allow them to keep him in the mix, while continuing with the Baez move to second base and making room for Russell at short. Or any of the three could be dealt for a major rotation piece this winter or next year (David Price, anyone?). Pure speculation, of course.
As if the Cubs weren’t already intriguing enough, they are so much more now. While the 2015 Cubs are going to be a watchable and competitive team, based off of what we’ve seen from the club this year since the middle of May, the 2016 club is going to be an absolute blast to watch.