Winners and Losers of Cubs-A's Blockbuster Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel Trade

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2014

Winners and Losers of Cubs-A's Blockbuster Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel Trade

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    Chicago general manager Jed Hoyer and his counterpart in Oakland, Billy Beane, proved on Friday night that fireworks on the Fourth of July don't only explode overhead, completing a massive six-player swap that has wide-sweeping ramifications on the playoff picture in both leagues.

    The first-place Athletics strengthened their rotation by adding two of the best pitchers available, Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija, while the rebuilding Cubs landed a trio of youngsters—shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney and starting pitcher Dan Straily (along with a player to be named later)—to build a future contender around.

    It's a deal that, on paper, seems to benefit both clubs. While it will be a few years before we can truly grasp which club came out on top, it's never too early to take a look at the immediate winners and losers in the aftermath of the first major trade of the regular season.

Winner: Dan Straily

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    From the perspective of an individual player, there may not be a bigger winner in this deal than Straily.

    It was only two years ago that he led the minor leagues with 190 strikeouts and was named Oakland's second-best prospect by MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo. Last year, Straily won 10 games for the A's and finished fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, so it's not like there's a lack of talent here.

    But Straily struggled this season when called upon by the A's, pitching to a 4.93 ERA and allowing nine home runs in only 38.1 innings, and he wasn't much better with Triple-A Sacramento. He had furthermore clearly fallen out of favor with the current regime.

    In Chicago, Straily will get a chance immediately to be a part of a now-depleted Cubs rotation.

Loser: Starlin Castro

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    Starlin Castro has silenced his doubters and put together a terrific season, one that finds him worthy of inclusion on the National League All-Star squad and one that has left his woeful 2013 in the past where it belongs.

    For all of his efforts, Castro may eventually find himself wearing a different uniform.

    Chicago now has three of the best young middle infielders under the age of 25 in baseball: Castro, 21-year-old Javier Baez and the 20-year-old Russell. While unproven at the major league level, the latter two are projected to be, just like Castro, All-Star-caliber shortstops.

    The Cubs have three players for one position—that never works out well.

    Even if Baez slides over to second base, that still leaves Russell nipping at Castro's heels. Not only is Russell a superior defensive player to Castro (who continues to struggle with the glove), but he's going to cost the Cubs significantly less than Castro will.

    Castro is due at least $44 million through the 2019 season, $60 million if the Cubs were to pick up the $16 million team option that they hold on him for 2020. Russell wouldn't even become arbitration eligible until 2018 or so, depending on when his MLB service-time clock begins to tick.

    The money the Cubs could save by trading Castro (when Baez and Russell are ready) could be used to bolster other areas of the roster—like the starting rotation.

Winner: Jeff Samardzija

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    Despite pitching to the National League's 10th-lowest ERA (2.83), Samardzija sits with a 2-8 record on the season, thanks largely in part to receiving less run support than any other pitcher, according to ESPN.

    That's about to change drastically, as Samardzija joins an Oakland club that leads baseball with 430 runs scored, 100 more than the 330 that the Cubs have put on the board.

    While he'll be facing some tougher lineups in the American League, Samardzija's win total figures to skyrocket—and with every additional win, the price on his next contract only increases.

Losers: Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners

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    If you're looking for the two people whose Fourth of July celebrations were ruined more than anyone else's by this trade, look no further than a pair of general managers in the AL West, Los Angeles' Jerry DiPoto and Seattle's Jack Zduriencik.

    Both of their clubs have stayed within shouting distance of the A's atop the division, with the Angels 3.5 games out and the Mariners six. Oakland GM Billy Beane told reporters, including John Hickey of the San Jose Mercury News, that the division foes certainly played a part in his thinking leading up to the deal:

    We've got a tremendous amount of respect for the talent that the Angels and the Mariners have. Our priority is to try to win the division first, and then worry about the postseason.

    Any way you can strengthen your team helps you if you can get there, but I think the narrative that all this is (for the postseason) is a bit arrogant. We need to make sure we get there first. This is a move to give us every chance to win the division, first and foremost.

    By adding Hammel and Samardzija, the balance of power in the division has tilted significantly in Oakland's favor. Now, both the Angels and Mariners have no choice but to try to make significant additions in order to keep pace with Oakland.

Winners: The Rest of the NL Central

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    With four of the NL Central's five teams—everyone but the Cubs—in contention for playoff spots, removing two of the better pitchers from the division is only going to help those contending clubs.

    Three of the four contenders—Cincinnati (11), Milwaukee (10) and St. Louis (10)—still have at least 10 games to play against the Cubs. Each of those clubs figured to have faced Hammel and Samardzija twice more during the regular season. Pittsburgh, with six games left against the Cubs, would have faced them each at least once.

    That's no longer the case.

    Instead of going up against established veterans, they'll be going up against younger, less experienced arms. With all four clubs boasting veteran lineups, it's hard to see how that won't result in a few more wins than originally could have been hoped for.

Losers: Tampa Bay Rays

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    Tampa Bay has been dangling David Price on the trade market since the winter, asking for a significant package of talent in exchange for the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner.

    According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, the Rays recently told the Los Angeles Dodgers that, of the team's top prospects—right-handed pitcher Chris Anderson, outfielder Joc Pederson, right-handed pitcher Zach Lee, left-handed pitcher Julio Urias and shortstop/third baseman Corey Seager—they'd like "most of them" in a potential deal for Price.

    Considering that Oakland just surrendered its two best prospects for two established starting pitchers, including Samardzija, who many put on even footing with Price in terms of being the more valuable trade chip, it's hard to see the Dodgers (or any team) meeting Tampa Bay's exorbitant asking price.

    If you think about it, the Cubs really put the screws to Tampa Bay here. Chicago didn't have to trade Samardzija—it could have spent the rest of this season, the winter and the first half of 2015 trying to work out a contract extension before trading him.

    Tampa Bay doesn't have that luxury with Price. The club has no chance of signing him to a long-term deal, and everyone knows it. 

    Price, earning $14 million, accounts for roughly 20 percent of the team's total payroll this season. His salary is only going to go up in his final year of arbitration, taking up even more of the financially strapped franchise's budget.

    If the Rays are serious about moving Price, they're going to have to lower their demands.