Even though there is still time for all 30 Major League Baseball teams to make a move that will bring them one step closer to winning a championship, either in 2014 or in the years to come, it's never too early to look at the trades already consummated.
Frankly, based on the direction things have gone prior to July 31's deadline, if you haven't already made a big deal, there may not be one out there. The advent of the second wild card in each league gives more teams hope—sometimes false—that contention is possible.
Taking a snapshot look back at the deals already agreed upon, these are the ones that appear to be significant steps forward. We are only talking about trades that have happened after the season started, so nothing from the offseason is included.
Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland A's
You have to start with the biggest trade of the season so far, right?
This is the kind of deal Oakland general manager Billy Beane never would have made 10 years ago, either because he didn't have the budget or didn't want to give up the prospects. But the A's have proven to be a playoff team the last two years—they needed to do something major to become a World Series team.
Oakland's offense is more than capable of producing in October, currently leading all of baseball in runs scored (534) and fifth in homers (111). The pitching staff was decimated by injuries early in the year. Jarrod Parker had Tommy John surgery for the second time, while AJ Griffin had elbow reconstruction in late April.
Even with Scott Kazmir making the AL All-Star team and Sonny Gray continuing to evolve, Jeff Samardzija looks like a No. 1 starter should look at 6'5", 225 pounds and has been dominant with 123 strikeouts against 33 walks with 119 hits allowed in 138 innings.
As Jonah Keri of Grantland.com wrote in a trade recap piece, relying on the starting rotation it had prior to the deal made Oakland susceptible to disaster in the second half:
Scott Kazmir is one year removed from being a minor league pickup in Cleveland, and his injury history makes it tough to feel completely confident in his health, even as he’s emerged as one of the AL’s 10 best starters. And while Tommy Milone had gone 6-0 with a 2.62 ERA in his past 11 starts, his success was fool’s gold built largely on flukishly strong results with men on base and in scoring position; the A’s sent him down to Triple-A after the trade. Oakland’s starting five were unlikely to flourish for much longer, and the team knew reinforcements were badly needed.
Samardzija not only stabilizes an Oakland rotation while giving manager Bob Melvin a No. 1 starter who can match up with Max Scherzer in a potential playoff series against Detroit, but he gives the team some insurance for 2015, which is his final arbitration year before free agency.
On top of that, the A's acquired Jason Hammel in the deal with Chicago. While not nearly the caliber pitcher Samardzija is, the 31-year-old has turned into more than just an innings eater, which is what the Cubs signed him to be.
Hammel's counting stats aren't that much different than Samardzija's. He has 112 strikeouts and 30 walks with 107 hits allowed in 121.1 innings pitched. At the very least, Melvin can use him in Game 4 of a seven-game series knowing that the right-hander will give him six solid innings.
This was a move specifically designed to put Oakland in the World Series. We won't know if that happens for about three months, but it looks fantastic today.
Addison Russell and Billy McKinney to Chicago Cubs
Now we go to the other side of that Samardzija deal and examine why the Chicago Cubs are also big winners.
If you follow prospects and the minor leagues, you know the Cubs already had one of the best stables of position players. Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara were all preaseason top 100 prospects, according to Baseball America.
The one question people have about Chicago's future is on the mound. ESPN.com's Keith Law noted in his preseason prospect list (subscription required) that the only Cubs pitchers who "project as more than fifth starters" are C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson.
So if the Cubs were going to deal Samardzija, it would make sense if they went after young pitching. Instead, give credit to general manager Jed Hoyer, who went after the best baseball player regardless of position to land shortstop Addison Russell. Hoyer also acquired a really good hitter in Billy McKinney.
It was also puzzling to some because Baez is listed as a shortstop and Starlin Castro already plays the position at the MLB level, but that misses the bigger picture. Jason Parks of BaseballProspectus.com tells you why:
We get so focused on what teams don't have in their system that we ignore what they do have. In this current era of baseball, where the average runs scored per game is at its lowest level since 1981, the Cubs have an overflowing cup of bats to build with.
Plus, when the time comes for the Cubs to decide they need pitching, they have all these assets in the minors to trade. It's nice seeing prospects in your favorite team's uniform, but it's important to remember that they're also valuable as trade chips.
Jose Rondon and 3 Players From Los Angels Angels to San Diego Padres for Huston Street
We see teams overpay for relievers at the deadline every year, yet what the Los Angeles Angels paid to get Huston Street out of San Diego is puzzling because this is a franchise that has toiled near the bottom of the prospect barrel for years.
The Angels ranked 30th on BaseballProspectus.com's preseason ranking of each farm system, the second consecutive year they held the bottom spot.
Winning at the MLB level is what matters, and the Angels were able to address their weakness with a solid reliever. In doing so, though, they had to give up their top two prospects and two pitchers with a future in the bullpen.
Street has excellent rate stats this season with a 0.97 ERA, 2.73 FIP and 2.91 xFIP, as well as a perfect strand rate of 100 percent and .198 batting average on balls in play. Those last two stats can't stick, especially since his career BABIP against is .257 and eventually hitters tee off on you.
Sometimes relievers put together one of those unexplained seasons, which is how they end up getting paid. However, that's when teams get in trouble for overpaying based on one fluky season, which is what the Angels did.
The prize in the deal is 20-year-old shortstop Jose Rondon, who is hitting .318/.359/.405 in 82 games this season. Taylor Lindsey is a solid hitter with doubles power and a good left-handed swing.
R.J. Alvarez is finally throwing enough strikes for his stuff to play up, posting a 0.30 ERA with 41 strikeouts, 11 walks and 15 hits allowed in 30.1 innings at Double-A. Elliot Morris is erratic with 45 walks in 97.1 innings but has allowed 73 hits with 89 strikeouts.
Law wrote on ESPN.com (subscription required) after the deal that the Angels overpaid for the proven closer and said on Twitter that a Rondon-for-Street move is one he wouldn't have entertained from the Angels' perspective:
When you factor in that the Padres were able to get another position player and two guys under team control who will pitch in a bullpen soon, it's a steal.
San Diego Grade: A
Los Angeles Grade: D
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