The Trade That Changed the Cubs
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.