Cubs beef up farm system with trade

By Steve Shonder

On the Fourth of July the Chicago Cubs and the Oakland Athletics pulled off the year’s biggest trade, shaming firework displays and front office blustering across the country.

The Cubs sent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics in exchange for shortstop Addison Russell, left fielder Billy McKinney, pitcher Dan Straily and a player to be named later.

Russell and McKinney were Oakland’s top two prospects, with each player having been Oakland’s first draft pick in 2012 and 2013, respectively. The move establishes the Cubs as having the top farm system in Major League Baseball, which is all well and good for 2015 and 2016 — very good in fact.

The Cubs are loaded and primed for contention starting next season. If you’re one of those people who are vehemently opposed to tanking, you’ll hate this trade for what it represents and it’s an acceptable gut reaction to have. No one likes to see his or her favorite team tank. Personally, I hate the idea of tanking, but I love the return on this trade.

Scouts who have seen Russell claim he has the tools to become either the next Barry Larkin or Derek Jeter. McKinney has already made an impression for Oakland’s high-A affiliate just one year out of high school. Straily is a possible change-of-scenery success story along the lines of Jake Arrieta. Not a bad return for a guy who wouldn’t accept any contract offer — Samardzija — and another guy not likely to return to the Cubs — Hammel.

The timing of the deal has to put a bounce in the Cubs’ front office’s step. Samadzija has struggled recently, giving up an average of 6.5 runs per nine innings and allowing 54 base runners over the last 33 innings. A poor start against the Nationals could have potentially derailed the trade or at least caused Oakland to hold onto Russell.

The addition of Russell gives the Cubs three shortstops with a ton of potential in their organization, including Javier Baez, Starlin Castro and — if you want to consider a very good utility player — Arismendy Alcantara. There’s a lot to look forward to for this team.

The trade sets the Cubs up for 2015, with team president Theo Epstein saying he believes this will be the last year for Cubs as the leaders of the sellers market. You can believe what Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer are saying: they intend to be contenders next season.

Prospect extraordinaire Kris Bryant should see Wrigley Field from the hot corner next season, Baez should be major league ready and Alcantara could be called up sometime this season. In the meantime, Russell, who saw triple-A action last season before a hamstring injury set him back, could also be on the fast track to the majors.

Beyond the call-ups, the Cubs are in a very good position to make a major trade for someone like Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price. They have the prospects to make that deal and still have potential waiting in the wings.

There’s a lot to be hopeful for, unless team owner Tom Ricketts really is intent on gambling for his big-money TV deal. That could likely prevent serious spending until 2019, since that’s when the team’s deal with Comcast SportsNet ends and the renovations at Wrigley may finish — or start.

Until then, the Cubs have a strong foundation to build on and the possibility to put up some big numbers offensively.

The force is strong on the farm and if we’re lucky, some of the team’s young prospects will be the stars they’re believed to be. The odds are in our favor.