This past offseason, the Oakland A’s were in a familiar spot. Even amongst their fantastic run of consecutive AL West Division titles and 190 wins over the past two seasons, they still fell to the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS both years, with Justin Verlander landing the death blow in both series. So as the A’s saw their roster take shape, they knew as well as anyone that even with such fantastic success, the window could close at any time.
So the A’s made a flurry of moves in the offseason to bolster their bullpen and rotation, leading many to believe that they were going all in for 2014. On Friday, they made a trade that all but confirmed those beliefs.
Oakland acquired two of the biggest names on the trading block, as Chicago Cubs starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel are heading to the Bay Area in exchange for Oakland’s #1 prospect in shortstop Addison Russell. In addition, Oakland sent 2013 1st-round draft pick Billy McKinney, starter Dan Straily and a player to be named later to the North Siders.
The trade immediately puts the rest of the contending teams in Major League Baseball on notice, as the A’s pushed all their chips in for an opportunity to be the top team going into the postseason. Perhaps most interesting about this deal is the timing, as it’s most definitely a buyer’s market this season, with many teams in contention looking for pieces that many non-contenders are reluctant to give up. This deal just made it a whole lot more difficult for the other teams looking to improve their rosters before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
While the offensive firepower had been the focal point in Oakland in 2014, the other big piece of news was the injury woes that destroyed their rotation, as starters Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin went down with elbow injuries early in the season that required Tommy John surgery and promising starter Drew Pomeranz broke his non-pitching hand punching a chair after a bad performances a few weeks ago.
In getting Samardzija and Hammel, the A’s now field a rotation that could be considered the best 1 through 5 in the AL. Traditional stats don’t paint Samardzija in too well a light outside of ERA, but a 52.5% ground ball rate, a strikeout rate of nearly one per inning and a declining walk rate from last season has made him one of baseball’s best in 2014.
His 2.83 ERA plays well along his FIP of 3.07 and his xFIP of 3.20, showing that his mix of missing bats and a fifth consecutive season of increasing ground ball rates have turned him into a top-flight starter. He’s not an ace, but a guy like him can flourish in Oakland’s large ballpark, where his profile as a #2 starter will play up to ace-level.
For Hammel, his renaissance of sorts continues. While not considered on the level of Samardzija, many would claim that Hammel has actually been at that level or even above it. His strikeout rate is similar (8.5 compared to 8.58), his walk rate is lower (1.84 compared to 2.58) and while he doesn’t get the ground balls that Samardzija does (40.5%), he induces a lot of weak contact. His 2.98 ERA similarly agrees with FIP (3.12) and xFIP (3.26), making him a solid mid-rotation arm.
In adding the duo to a starting rotation that features Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and the surprising Jesse Chavez, the arrival of both Samardzija and Hammel will push Tommy Milone and the “One Dollar Man” Brad Mills out of the picture. Even with the unfortunate injury to Pomeranz, the A’s will have plenty of talent to deal with going forward should their rotation incur anymore hiccups this season.
This is definitely a win-now move from a contract situation, too, as Samardzija is due for a big raise in arbitration in 2015 thanks to his stellar performance this season and Hammel is a free agent at season’s end. That being said, there is some talk that the A’s might not be done dealing. If the team thinks Pomeranz will be ready to go in a few weeks, either recently acquired pitcher could be flipped for prospects, as the team now has one of the most barren minor league systems in Major League Baseball with the departure of its two top talents.
Regardless of what Oakland does, Billy Beane and his staff have made the right move in acquiring the talent to win now. Beane has said on multiple occasions that he would get the talent that would help his team get over the hump should he see the opportunity to do so. With this trade, Beane has pushed all his chips in with the hope that it will bring the A’s their first World Series title in a quarter-century.