Forget about the firecrackers and roman candles for a second. That racket you heard Friday night was the sound of the MLB trading season getting underway. Buckle up for an exciting month.
Two of the brightest men in baseball got together on a deal Friday, and it's a blockbuster. Theo Epstein's Cubs sent starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland, in exchange for buzzy shortstop prospect Addison Russell, first-round pick Billy McKinney, pitcher Dan Straily, and a player to be named later.
If Samardzija and Hammel had to move to the American League, Oakland is a friendly spot for fantasy purposes. While they'll miss the NL style of play (and all those hapless pitchers trying to bat), they'll get a much better overall context in Oakland. The Athletics are the top-scoring team in the majors (Chicago is 25th), and the A's also offer better relief pitching and defense (per the advanced metrics, anyway) than the Cubs did. I dare The Shark to start off 2-7 with his new team.
And obviously Oakland's park is much friendlier than the setup in Chicago. The Coliseum deflated scoring by nine percent over the last three years (per the Bill James Handbook), while Wrigley Field added four percent to the bottom line.
Oakland's new pitchers will face tougher in-division opposition, no doubt there. Their new AL West opponents rank 3rd, 12th, 14th and 26th in scoring (entering Friday's games), while the departed clubs were 5th, 17th, 23rd and 28th. You recognize the difference between the two leagues. The NL is the soft seat, the AL the jagged edge - though the gap between the circuits seems to get narrower all the time.
Bottom line, Samardzija (2.83 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) and Hammel (2.98/1.02) might gain an extra buck or two on their next Shuffle Up ticket. And at least they didn't go somewhere we have to worry about; if the Blue Jays made this trade, we'd be having a much different conversation. Off-the-cuff, here's a price to go with your grilled leftovers: Samardzija $19, Hammel $12.
Oakland's rotation is overflowing with options, which means some tough decisions (or additional trades) are on the way. Obviously Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Samardzija are locked into place, and Hammel should have a job waiting for him. Does Jesse Chavez get bumped to the bullpen, or is Tom Milone out of luck? And don't forget about Drew Pomeranz (broken hand), who could be a second-half factor, in some role.
It's a nice problem to have, I guess.
The Cubs have their own overcrowding problem - it's at shortstop. Obviously Starlin Castro is set at the major-league level, and now they have Javier Baez (Triple-A) and Russell (Double-A) percolating in the minors. Baez was the No. 6 prospect on the MLB.com clipboard before the year, Russell No. 11. Toss in slugging third baseman Kris Bryant (the No. 8 prospect), and the future sure looks bright on the North Side.
Castro, for what it's worth, is 24. Baez is 21. Russell is 20. Again, it's the type of problem you want to have - any athlete capable of playing shortstop is surely capable of playing another position. Some shortstops move to second base, some move to center field, some move to third base. Most scouts already envisioned Baez switching positions to begin with. Russell has been compared to Barry Larkin.
Keep collecting those assets and trading chips, Theo.
McKinney is a 19-year-old outfield prospect playing in High-A. He was the 24th overall pick in last summer's draft. Straily is a sneaky buy-low for the Cubs; although he pitched poorly in Oakland this year, he's still just 25.
It's been a fun day, in both fake and real baseball (Mike Trout closed the holiday sandlots as I was composing this blog). Your move, Blue Jays. Your move, Angels. Your witness, gamers.