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From [A]'s to Samard[z]ija

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From [A]'s to Samard[z]ija
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Oakland goes all in, and Jeff Samardzija prepares to win in the Week That Was

Let’s jump in the Week That Was time machine for a moment. Last year at this time, I was sitting in the airport in Chongqing, China, waiting for my flight to leave. The day was a humid, rainy one and I was lounging in the hotel lobby eating from a lukewarm buffet of hard boiled eggs, noodles and, for some reason, pigs in a blanket. I was anxious to get back to the States to celebrate the Fourth of July with my family, but just as much, I was looking forward to no longer having to navigate the occasionally sketchy food selection that is Life in China. I missed bread and cheese and Jack Daniels. Have you ever bitten into a chicken head? I have. It’s a somewhat horrifying experience. It just looked like all the other pieces of chicken on the plate. One moment, I was happily working my way through the massive chicken and potato platter, the next I was in mid-bite when the morsel exploded in a jet of hot liquid. As I counted down my hours in China, I was saying farewell to rogue chicken heads, saying farewell to the smog-fog of Chongqing, saying farewell to the last year of my life in a city of almost 30,000,000 people. I was also saying goodbye to friends, like the strange ball of energy that was Echo. Echo, who was a student in political science at the university and just wanted to improve his English and “be the best Echo he could be.” Every now and then I receive an email from Echo, who tells me he is still dedicated in his dream of coming to America and watching a Twins game. This time last year, as I texted my final farewells, the Twins were playing the Yankees. And so it is again this year. I’m happy to say that I am not the jetlagged mess that I was when I returned to the States in July of 2013. My mental facilities are sharp, now, and we’re past the halfway point of the season. It’s time to get serious.

The Chicago Cubs are saying their own farewells today, as they traded pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s. That sound you just heard was Samardzija and Hammel slapping hands and popping bottles. Samardzija’s just 2-7, but you don’t need my crystal ball to know that that win number is about to rise. Samardzija boasts a 2.83 ERA and is striking out almost a batter an inning. AL-only leaguers should be salivating at the prospect of scooping up the former Cubbie. A few things to keep in mind, though. Samardzija posted ERAs of 1.98 and 1.32 in April and May, respectively, before following that up with a 5.45 ERA in June. And the adjustment to the AL is not always a smooth one. I’m not too concerned on either front. Here’s hoping you’ve got waiver priority, friends. If you’re unable to scoop up Samardzija, shoot for his teammate. Hammel isn’t just a throw-in, with numbers strikingly similar to Samardzija’s: 2.98 ERA, 97 strikeouts in 102 innings, and a 3.12 FIP (to Samardzija’s 3.07). Hammel, strangely, is 7-5, thus counting for 18% of the Cubs’ win total. If you can get either one of these guys, you should be happy.

While Oakland is clearly gunning for a title this season, they sacrificed one of the best prospects in the game. The A’s gave up their 2013 first-round pick, CF Billy McKinney and Dan Strailey, but the big piece was shortstop Addison Russell. The 20-year old is ranked as the tenth-best prospect in baseball in an aggregate of twelve prospect rankings around the web (Keith Law, Baseball Prospectus, etc). The Cubs already have Starlin Castro (still just 24) manning short, plus stud shortstop prospect Javier Baez in the wings. Shift somebody to third, you say? Kris Bryant, slugging .707 between Double-A and Triple-A this season, disagrees. I have no clue how the Cubs will eventually navigate this backlog of awesome prospects, but I’m guessing Theo Epstein isn’t complaining right now. This is the kind of trade that benefits everybody involved. The A’s solidify themselves as World Series favorites and the Cubs fortify an already stacked farm system.

  • Onward to a sad farewell. After tossing five innings of rehab duty on Wednesday, CC Sabathia woke up with swelling in the same right knee that has kept him out for over two months. He is most likely done for the year. Yankee manager Joe Girardi said that “it’s probably fair to say” that we won’t see him throw another pitch this season. Sabathia will visit Dr. James Andrews on July 14th to determine if microfracture knee surgery is necessary. Even if he does avoid the knife, it’s possible we’ve seen the last of the big lefty.

From a fantasy standpoint, this story is a nonstarter: If you drafted him, you got eight starts to the tune of a 5.28 ERA. You most likely had him stashed on the DL and were waiting patiently for that long rumored post-All Star Break return. Your team is what it is at this point. Sabathia’s return would have merely been a bonus. At Week That Was Headquarters, we are a little sad to see the light dying on Sabathia’s career. He averaged 201 innings per season over his fourteen-year career and prior to last season, had never posted an ERA+ below 100. He will be missed. Sorry if this is starting to sound like a baseball obituary. The Yankees will soldier on with a rotation consisting of Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda and a bunch of prayers for rain.

Speed Round!

  • Yankee folk hero Yangervis Solarte was optioned to Triple-A on Thursday. Solarte was one of the nice surprises of the early season, slashing .303/.404/.461 in April and .296/.339/.469 in May, before he inevitably cooled off with a .164/.282/.213 June. Zelous Wheeler was called up and went 2-for-4 with a home run in his debut. If you’re feeling zealous (**cue laugh track**), he might be worth a speculative add in deep AL leagues, but as of now, it’s nothing more than speculative, as Wheeler is a non-prospect. Kelly Johnson is only batting .213, so Wheeler should at least get his fair share of chances manning the hot corner. This is a long way of saying that the Yankees could probably use Alex Rodriguez right about now.
  • Clayton Kershaw upped his scoreless innings streak to 36, following an eight inning, two-hit, eight strikeout gem against the Rockies. As you’ll probably recall, Kershaw no-hit Colorado on June 18. Orel Hershiser’s major league record of 59 straight scoreless innings is still a few more shutouts away from the conversation, but Kershaw is locked in. He’s putting up career-best numbers in terms of strikeouts per nine innings (12.1) and walks per nine (1.2). His FIP of 1.48 is almost half a run better than his ERA (2.04), suggesting that Kershaw might be getting a little unlucky. God help us all.
  • Let’s keep streaking! Jose Abreu extended his hitting streak to 18 games with a two-run home run in the fifth inning of Chicago’s 7-1 win over the Mariners. During the streak, he’s hit eight home runs and knocked in eighteen. For my money (what little of it exists), the most interesting awards race going right now is the AL Rookie of the Year. Let’s set aside the fact that it’s ridiculous that either Abreu or Masahiro Tanaka are considered “rookies.” Tanaka could very well win the AL Cy Young, and if the White Sox can pull their record up (they’re 41-46 right now), Abreu should have a legitimate shot at MVP. When’s the last time we had a Cy Young winner face off against an MVP for Rookie of the Year? Has it ever happened? Not to this columnist’s memory.

Slight problem for Abreu’s MVP chances, though, is that Mike Trout still exists. Trout hit a walk-off home run against the Astros on the Fourth of July. Insert your own easy fireworks metaphor here. Boosted by a scorching June in which he hit .361/.471/.759, Trout’s OPS+ is 188, making Abreu’s OPS+ of 159 look rather pedestrian, in the same way that a Great White Shark makes a Tiger Shark look “rather pedestrian.”

  • Carlos Martinez was solid again in a 5-0 win against the Giants this week, striking out six and only walking one in five innings of work. It’s nice to see only one walk on the line, as Martinez has had occasional control issues in the starting role (four walks against the Mets in four innings, three walks against the Dodgers in four and a third innings). Since entering the rotation four starts ago, Martinez has dropped his ERA from 4.67 to 3.91. While he hasn’t gone past five innings in any of those starts, that’s to be expected as he’s slowly stretched out. He threw a season-high 88 pitches against the Giants. Jaime Garcia’s season-ending shoulder injury opened the door for Martinez, and he’s doing his best to walk through it. I’ve got a bit of a mancrush on Martinez and my heart flutters at the thought of what he could do once he settles into the rotation.
  • Arizona shortstop Chris Owings was placed on the 15-day DL last Sunday with a shoulder strain. Following an examination on Monday, the injury was labeled a “bruise.” Of all the awful things that can happen to a shoulder in baseball, we’ll take a bruise. The 22-year old was put on the DL retroactive to June 26, meaning that if all goes well, he’ll be eligible to return around the All Star Break. The second year player is slashing .277/.313/.458 on the year.
  • Corey Hart went 0-for-3 with an RBI in his return from the DL on Friday. He’d missed six weeks with a hamstring injury, but he’ll be back to serving as Seattle’s primary DH. Hart’s hitting .204/.288/.345. While those numbers are a little ugly, he should be added if any owner in your league happened to drop him over the last month. When healthy, Hart should theoretically provide a nice source of power. He put up thirty or more homers in two of his last three healthy seasons, prior to being sidelined with knee issues in 2013.
  • The Marlins demoted 23-year-old left-hander Andrew Heaney on Saturday with a 6.53 ERA. He’ll be back, and he’ll be better.
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