Moneyball was a great movie. But it had a tragic ending. Billy Beane, the brave protagonist fighting against a world that neither cared for nor understood his ideas, is set upon by an entrenched bureaucracy. Beane hopes against hope to reach the stars on a shoestring budget by changing the way the world looks at baseball, only to be smacked down by the old-guard protectors of the status quo as they deprive our hero of the reward he so desperately covets.
But that was Moneyball I. After the blockbuster trade that Beane pulled off while most of the country watched fireworks on July 4th, giving up a slew of talented prospects in exchange for two top-of-the-line pitchers, Moneyball II might have a far happier ending. Now, there will be some dullards out there who question why Beane would be pulling the trigger on blockbuster trades like this. After all, isn’t “moneyball” supposed to be all about walks and on-base percentages?
That’s partially true, but also a massive oversimplification. What “moneyball” was really about was simply taking advantage of the things undervalued or overvalued in the baseball market. There was a time when walking and on-base percentages were greatly undervalued by baseball’s crusty elites, and Billy Beane exploited that to great benefit.
Fast forward 10-12 years later, specifically to Friday night. What this trade shows us is that Beane has found a new, overvalued sector in baseball’s ever-churning industrial machine: prospects. Wil Myers, who was supposed to light the world on fire in Tampa, has regressed from where he was last year, Justin Smoak, who was supposed to have first base on lockdown in Seattle, just got demoted to Triple-A, and the Fenway Faithful, enthralled with Xander Bogaerts last year, just watched him go hitless for seven straight games before he broke out of the slump on Sunday.
Not to say that Myers, Smoak, and Bogaerts won’t eventually be great, but the point is not every prospect turns into Ken Griffey Jr. Some of the popcorn pops while some of it just burns. So, when you’ve got an opportunity to strike while the iron is hot, you take it, and that’s exactly what Beane did.
And with that, it’s time to grade this trade!
The Oakland Athletics received starting pitchers Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija from the Cubs
Pitching wins championships in baseball. Like Clayton Kershaw, both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel have been among the best in the business. Despite his 2-7 win-loss record, Samardzija’s ERA is phenomenal at 2.83 in 17 starts for Chicago–good for tenth in the National League. Hammel’s ERA stands at an impressive 2.98, good enough for fifteenth in the National League.
Hammel and Samardzija bring deep postseason credibility to Oakland’s rotation. Why? Simple: Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir have done good work for Oakland this year. But no serious contender can venture into the fall shadows of Major League Baseball’s grueling postseason led by a player in his first full season as a starter in Gray and a guy who hasn’t pitched 160 innings in a season since the Bush Administration in Kazmir.
With Samardzija and Hammel now leading the way, Oakland looks like a credible contender.
Timing is also a huge factor here. The big money franchises that stood like gargoyles at the gates of baseball championship immortality, making sure the A’s remained on the outside looking in for years, are all down this season. The Yankees and the Red Sox likely won’t make the postseason at all, let alone slow down the A’s. The Tigers are far from unbeatable, with Justin Verlander suddenly looking more human and a bullpen that scares no one.
So, if a mid-market team with a small market budget was going to make a big-market power play, this would be the year to do it. But make no mistake, Billy Beane and the A’s may only have a year or two. Jason Hammel will be a free agent at the end of this season, and Samardzija will be a free agent after 2015, with both likely commanding the kind of salaries that Beane can ill afford.
Then the gig is up, and that’s the real risk in Beane’s gamble. It’s not just a bold ploy to win, it’s a bold ploy to win that has to work right now. Otherwise, they just gave up some of the best prospects in baseball for absolutely nothing.
Based on boldness, baseball IQ, and instinctive sense of timing, there’s no choice but to give this move full marks: Five Stars
The Chicago Cubs received shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney, pitcher Dan Straily, and a player to be named
Yes, Cubs fans, I hear you. If pitching wins championships, then why did we just give up two of the best in the business, especially considering we have just one pitcher coming back in return?
Two things here: First, the pitchers given up here are awesome indeed, but they aren’t young. Samardzija will be 30 in January, and Jason Hammel is 31. In addition to that, both pitchers are near the end of their contracts. Hammel’s will be up at the end of this year, and Samardzija’s in 2015. So, what the Cubs were walking into was a situation where they were going to have to overpay enormous money to two pitchers on the wrong side of 30 before the rest of the team’s prospects were ready to join the team and compete.
How does that make any sense?
A much better move was made by General Manager Theo Epstein, who reaped a ton of new talent in exchange for the older players and saved his money to spend when the team is ready to make a run.
Nor should Cubs fans be dismayed about only one pitcher coming back in the deal. Addison Russell, the shortstop that served as the centerpiece of this deal, is a top-ten overall prospect and considered one of the future stars of the game by insiders. Landing a prospect of that caliber will make it possible for the Cubs to trade either current shortstop Starlin Castro or Javier Baez to net another pitcher.
Not to mention, the Cubs still have the best prospects in baseball in Triple-A third baseman Kris Bryant, Double-A outfielder Jorge Soler, and Class-A outfielder Albert Almora, which should make the future look very bright for the North Siders for quite some time.
Ironically, this is the kind of “building for the future” move a younger Billy Beane has made in the past. That bodes well for Chicago.
Grade: Five Stars