Whenever predictions are made in this space, it’s interesting to see whether or not they come true. Last year, in the three-way dogfight that the National League Central turned into, I predicted that the Cincinnati Reds would win the division title, but the St. Louis Cardinals won it instead. As the Beastie Boys once said, my crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear. But I didn’t miss with the Jeff Samardzija prediction that I made before the season started, either.
In the Cubs season preview piece I wrote in March, I said “if the past two years of the Epstein/Hoyer regime has taught us anything, Shark will be traded for prospects before the trade deadline. Likely No. 4 starter Jason Hammel is in the same boat.” Anyone who paid attention over the past two years knew both pitchers would be traded. And sure enough, this came to pass as the Oakland A’s acquired both pitchers for shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney, starting pitcher Dan Straily and, possibly, a player to be named later.
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The prospects the Cubs received in the deal aren’t well-known to me, and I’m not going to make any comments on what they might add to the organization. But I will say this: The A’s are now the team to beat, not only in the American League but in the whole of MLB. They’re already 20 games over .500 and in possession of the game’s best record. With the addition of two proven starters, the A’s have announced their intentions to play into late October this year.
The trade deadline is still a few weeks away, and I look for this deal to cause the other American League contenders to recalibrate themselves with an eye toward matching up with Oakland. It might even set off (I don’t really want to do this, but here goes) an arms race, as teams look to stockpile pitchers.
Oakland did take a risk in acquiring Hammel, who was hurt last year and hasn’t yet thrown more than 178 innings in his career (and is at 108 inning this season). And if Samardzija’s contract demands weren’t satisfied by the Cubs’ offers, it’s hard to see how Oakland will afford him long-term. But they get him through this year and next with the arbitration, and perhaps that’s enough for now.
The deal has been made, and the Cubs will have to finish out the second half of the season on a wing and a prayer, as far as their starting rotation is concerned. But Oakland has gone the other direction, and what has already been a great season in the Bay area will get even more compelling.