The Chicago Cubs landed a top prospect in shortstop Addison Russell in a trade with the Oakland Athletics, one that is bound to have ripple effects throughout the team's farm system while simultaneously setting up the big league club for future success.
The Cubs sent starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A's for Russell, outfield prospect Billy McKinney and right-handed pitcher Dan Straily.
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported the deal:
The Cubs have to be bullish on Russell's chances of blossoming into a future star to give up both Samardzija and Hammel, both of whom feature sub-3.00 ERAs and are striking out more than 8.5 batters per nine innings, despite mediocre win-loss records on the season.
Baseball Prospectus writer Jason Parks commented on just how flush the Cubs' farm system is with Russell in the fold:
The addition of Russell is exciting for Cubs fans, but it has created a bit of a logjam at shortstop. See, the Cubs already have one of the bright young shortstop prospects in Javier Baez, not to mention the 24-year-old two-time All-Star Starlin Castro holding down the fort at this position in the majors.
He has erased some Draft-day questions about his long-term future at shortstop with his play. Now scouts are convinced Russell has the tools to be an above-average defender, capable of highlight-reel plays. He is a consistent performer in the batter's box as well, and is moving quickly toward the Major Leagues.
If Russell is truly a future defensive marvel, then it is possible they could move the powerful Baez to third base.
Then again, he would just run into Kris Bryant, one of the preeminent minor league sluggers.
Bryant is a 22-year-old masher who's hit 28 home runs and notched a .707 slugging percentage split between the Cubs' Double-A and Triple-A minor league teams in 2014. Prior to Russell's arrival, the argument for the Cubs' best prospect centered around Bryant and Baez.
I like both of them, but I think Baez's upside is higher," said an American League scout, via CSN Chicago's David Kaplan. "Bryant will have more success early in his big-league career but long-term, I think Baez will put up bigger numbers if he stays healthy."
Of course, the two shortstops then generate a discussion regarding which one makes it to the majors first. Russell is a year younger than Baez, is currently playing Double-A ball and has dealt with hamstring issues.
This gives an edge to Baez, who has struggled making solid contact in Triple-A but is much closer to a late 2014 call-up or fighting for a spot on the 25-man roster next season.
Athletics assistant director of scouting Michael Holmes admitted earlier in June that Russell and some of the A's other prospects weren't necessarily on a quick path to the MLB.
"These are guys that aren't quite on the so-called fast track that maybe certain college guys might have been that we've taken in past years," said Holmes, via MLB.com's Aaron Leibowitz. "But these are guys that are progressing at a very good rate through our system and have done very well."
The Cubs clearly aren't worried about today's numbers or tomorrow's record at fifth place in the NL Central, so they could be inclined to hoard these infield prospects and see which ones—if not all—reach their full potential. With two young prospects in the pipeline behind Castro, who is currently batting .290 as the everyday shortstop, the Cubs have All-Star potential in spades.
It's possible the Cubs flip one of Russell, Baez or Castro in order to shore up other areas of the team. General manager Theo Epstein has done a fine job of restocking the farm system, but the team could go for more starting pitching at the big league or minor league level to deal with the repercussions of giving up Hammel and Samardzija.
After all, once these burgeoning minor league prospects start racking up hits at Wrigley Field, the team is going to want to give them the opportunity to win while they carve up major league pitching.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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