WASHINGTON — The Cubs are making a Fourth of July blockbuster.
The Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s, according to sources familiar with the situation, giving the team that already has the best record in baseball two starters who have been pitching at an All-Star level.
An industry source described shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney — Oakland’s first-round picks in 2012 and 2013 — as centerpieces of the deal. The Cubs are also said to be getting Dan Straily, a 25-year-old right-hander who went 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 27 starts for the A’s last season.
Baseball America ranked Russell and McKinney as the top two prospects in Oakland’s farm system heading into this season. The Cubs will add them to a deep pool of position players — headlined by Kris Bryant and Javier Baez — already performing in the minors.
That inventory will give the Cubs some trade chips to potentially rebuild their pitching staff after dealing away 40 percent of the rotation in three consecutive summers. Look for the Starlin Castro rumors to heat up again — Baez and Russell are supposed to be dynamic up-the-middle players.
Russell, 20, entered this season as Baseball America’s No. 14 overall prospect and had been hitting .333 with a .939 OPS through 13 games at Double-A Midland.
McKinney, a 19-year-old out of Plano West Senior High School in Texas, was hitting .241 with 10 homers and 33 RBI in 75 games at advanced Class-A Stockton.
While this sell-off had been anticipated for months, the Cubs acted quickly and decisively before the July 31 deadline.
Samardzija was the longest-tenured player on the team, a Chicago guy who had been on the 2008 team that won 97 games and seen the franchise’s boom-and-bust periods. The two sides found no common ground in more than two years of discussions about a long-term contract extension.
Seeing the exploding price of pitching — and feeling uncertain about the franchise’s direction during a slow rebuild — Samardzija decided to test the free-agent market after the 2015 season. The Cubs recently floated a concept believed to be worth around five years and $86 million, and sources say they privately hope to make another long-shot run at him in the future.
Samardzija (2-7, 2.83 ERA) had been scheduled to face the Washington Nationals on Saturday, when the deal’s expected to be formally announced. Unsolicited, Hammel (8-5, 2.98 ERA) complained about getting pulled in the seventh inning of Friday’s 7-2 victory at Nationals Park, exposing some of the tension between the clubhouse and Theo Epstein’s front office.
Epstein has a history with Oakland general manager Billy Beane, who nearly took over the Boston Red Sox after the 2002 season. Beane changed his mind, citing family reasons and his connections to the West Coast, giving Epstein the chance to make history at Fenway Park as the game’s youngest GM ever.
The “Moneyball” star is going all-in after calling the playoffs a crapshoot and watching his teams struggle in October.
Hammel has pitched in the postseason for the Colorado Rockies and Baltimore Orioles and was part of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays team that reached the World Series. He exceeded all expectations after signing a one-year, $6 million deal that finally came together once the New York Yankees blew the Cubs away in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes.
Samardzija loves the big stage. That’s what former general manager Jim Hendry saw in the Notre Dame All-American wide receiver, no fear of going over the middle, a swagger that convinced the Cubs to buy out his potential NFL career with a $10 million deal.
After years of shuttling back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation — and the big leagues and Triple-A Iowa — Samardzija lobbied Epstein hard for the chance to start once the president of baseball operations took over at Clark and Addison.
Samardzija capitalized on the opportunity in 2012, making 28 starts and going 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA. He crossed into 200-innings/200-strikeouts territory last season and will get the chance to live up to his reputation as a big-game pitcher.
Samardzija and Hammel chasing World Series rings will leave a huge void in the clubhouse as the Cubs try to reload again for the future.