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The Trade That Changed the Cubs

Written by , Posted in General

On July 5, 2014, Chicago Cubs, embarking on a full-scale rebuilding job, consisting of low-priced, below-average veterans such as Emilio Bonifacio and promising young talents such as Anthony Rizzo, found themselves in last place in the National League Central Division, completely looking ahead to a hopeful future. Meanwhile, the Oakland A’s, back-to-back American League West Champions, had the best record in baseball and were widely considered to be the foremost championship contender. A move whose repercussions echo after this season, the trade of pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in exchange for top prospects Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, and pitcher Dan Straily, led to a world championship in Chicago and a complete collapse in Oakland.

The timing of the trade was strange, as it occurred in early July, much before the chaos at the end of July. Billy Beane, general manager and president of the A’s, wished to raid the market of its premier pitcher in order to solidify its rotation, and the Cubs wished to boost its promising farm system. At the time, Samardzija held an ERA of 2.83; Hammel, 2.98. Both pitchers were hindered by the lack of run support as members of the Cubs and sought a trades to contenting teams. Samardzija, a Jim Hendry-era holdover, was much loved by Cubs fans, and his stellar form promised massive prospect returns.

Oakland, mainly running on the solid pitching of Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, were willing to part ways with top shortstop prospect Addison Russell and solid outfield prospect Billy McKinney. Both teams left this trade with optimism: Oakland had solidified its status as a contender; Chicago had another top middle-infield prospect.

The sheer contrast between the Athletics and the Cubs in the aftermath of this trade is notable based upon the overwhelming success one team and the overwhelming failure of the other.

Clear winners of the trade, the Cubs utilized Russell’s unique power and defensive ability to shore up arguably the best young middle-infield in baseball. After showing signs of promise in his debut campaign, Russell was voted to the All-Star Game as the starting shortstop for the National League. Along with coming in third on the team in RBIs (behind Bryant and Rizzo), Russell showed a tendency for clutch at-bats during the Cubs’ championship run, including his massive homeruns against Los Angeles and Cleveland.

Meanwhile, Oakland seemingly collapsed down the stretch of the 2014 season. After trading power bat Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox in exchange for future Cub Jon Lester, Billy Beane’s squad failed to even win their own division, merely qualifying for the Wild Card game against Kansas City. Indeed, after blowing a 4-run lead in the 8th inning and then losing in extra innings (with Hammel on the mound, incidentally) against the Royals, the A’s prompted to trade Samardzija to the White Sox. In fact, Samardzija managed not even to pitch in a playoff game. After two consecutive losing seasons and a depleted prospect pool sans Russell and McKinney, the A’s ironically find themselves in a rebuilding process.

The trade that exponentially helped the Cubs become contenders came full-circle as Samardzija, now a member of the Giants, took the loss in Game 2 of the NLDS as he gave us five runs. Hammel, meanwhile, sat in the home dugout while not on the playoff roster. That night served as a reminder for what the Cubs gained for practically nothing, and what the Athletics lost, for practically nothing.

  • Connor Ladwig

    Definitely one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. Well written Mr. Kruse!

    • Johnk

      Not sure if losing Russell was the deal that sunk the A’s. I suspect it was more that they lost a major bat in the middle of the lineup (Cespedes).

      No doubt teams thinking they are ‘close’ at/near the trade deadline are pushing major chips to make (impactful) moves ..
      T
      We got who we wanted. The A’s got who they wanted. In the Russell deal, they lost no one from their 25 man roster… in the Lester deal they lost a big bat from their lineup.

      Played out pretty badly for the A’s..

      • theguz7

        Cespedes has impacted each of the past 3 Post seasons; Mets never get there in ’15 or ’16 without him, and his departure in ’14 cost the A’s dearly, as u noted.

  • Doug S.

    Very true how it turned out. At the time I don’t think I recognized the Cubs as coming out on top, more like we’re selling off, I hoped what we got back was good.

  • Adam Peters

    While I appreciate this article, Colin, I would never say the trade for Russell was overlooked, then or now. And I don’t know that it was all that lopsided, frankly. While it’s true that Hammel pretty muched tanked in Oakland, Samardzija pitched well for them. And they got him for the following season as well, they just traded him to the White Sox where he folded like a cheap shirt. Oakland got 4 guys in that deal. One played the whole season in 2016 and did well, and two played some with the big club last year. So all in all it looks like it might have worked out OK for them.

    As Johnk mentioned below the wheels came off for the A’s when they traded Cespedes. Their offense, which had been a juggernaut, fell apart after that.

  • Doc Raker

    Great article, “Smarja, much loved by Cub fans”- I don’t know about that- much loved by Norte Dame fans, he was a wide receiver you know.

    It was a great trade getting Russell and then got Hammel back for the following season. I think the trade that really sunk the A’s was trading Cespedis, the A’s went into a tail spin after that while the Met’s got much better with Cespedis in their line up. The contrast was obvious.

    • JTBarrett16

      Exactly my thoughts. Giving up Cespedes is what killed them. Adam Dunn, despite what is said here otherwise, was not an adequate replacement for him. Don’t forget too, McKinney was used to help get Chapman along with some of the parts we got for Castro. And IIRC, the other players we got from Oakland were used to help acquire Fowler. So basically what we did is we turned Samardzidja and Castro into Russell Fowler and Chapman

      • Dunn sees a lot of pitches despite his high strikeout numbers.

      • JTBarrett16

        Still not an adequate replacement for Cespedes

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        I like the Mullet on your picture.