- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Cubs ... Jeff Samardzija trade ... fireworks ... can't ... resist .. jokes.
So yeah, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer went boom on July 4. God bless Cubs Nation.
Dealing an All-American guy such as Samardzija on the Fourth? There should be a law.
What will they do in the next 78 games? Probably trade more guys and lose a bunch of games, I imagine.
All part of the plan. And no, I'm not being sarcastic.
Six years, almost to the day, since Cubs general manager Jim Hendry traded for A's starter Rich Harden, the A's got the starting pitching they need for a playoff run.
While Harden and the Cubs flamed out in that postseason, Oakland got infielder Josh Donaldson in that deal, and he's a star now. Will the reverse happen in this swap?
For the second year in a row, it sure looks like Cubs president of baseball operations Epstein, general manager Hoyer and their crew pulled off an early coup in what promises to be a busy month of trading.
In a deal with their long-term vision in mind, the Cubs are getting an elite prospect in shortstop Addison Russell, this past year's 24th overall draft pick in outfielder Billy McKinney and pitcher Dan Straily. The deal wasn't official as of late Friday night, but there's a player to be named later involved. I'm sure Mr. PTBNL will be awesome as well.
The Cubs had been playing well lately, having swept a lousy Boston team and won four straight after Hammel's start Friday in Washington. But no one was fooled. We all knew this day was coming. Since, well, the season started.
To put it in perspective, Hammel was quizzed by reporters on his first day of training camp about getting flipped for minor leaguers. On his last day as a Cub, he complained about getting pulled too early. Pitch counts matter when you're about to deal a guy for one of the best prospects in baseball.
Hammel had a better-than-expected season as a one-year rental, while Samardzija, who has another full season under organizational control, has matured into an ace-type starter.
Samardzija and the Cubs very publicly couldn't come to an agreement on a contract, and when it leaked out that the right-hander turned down a generous offer -- if that actually happened -- we knew the end was nigh.
The deal makes perfect sense for both sides, and I think Samardzija will be much happier playing this year and next for an organization trying to win a World Series. He's a winner, and he's betting on himself with his contract demands.
Any organization that loses a guy such as Samardzija is worse off in the short term. But there's little sense in rehashing what the Cubs are playing for right now.
While pitchers are expensive and nerve-wracking, Samardzija was the kind of pitcher you invest in, even when you're overpaying. (Everyone overpays when it's not an early, pre-arbitration deal.) He's your guy, no injury history, great attitude, and he's getting better -- not just older.
He's 29 but with less mileage on his arm than most in his situation. The former Notre Dame football star worked his way through the minors when he was typecast as a football player who got paid for having a big name (figuratively and literally) and some leverage.
He's funny, honest (almost to an organization's dismay), hard-working and a proud product of northwest Indiana. He's just a good dude, basically.
Of course, he's not an Epstein-Hoyer prospect, and he was going to cost a lot of money for a team with limited short-term goals.
So he had to go.
I'm guessing the Cubs clubhouse won't be a particularly happy place Saturday morning. No one likes being told they don't matter, and that's essentially what the brass is telling the foot soldiers.
But with that in mind, everyone will be rooting for Hammel and Samardzija in Oakland. When Alfonso Soriano was traded, the Cubs talked about him like the Shawshank gang talked about Andy Dufresne after he escaped.
Yes, it's a shame Samardzija is gone, and I wish I knew him better -- to write a proper tribute -- but you've got to live in reality. And with the Cubs, the reality is in the future.
Russell, 20, becomes one of the Cubs' top three prospects, along with fellow shortstop Javier Baez and third baseman Kris Bryant. Russell is also one of three top-tier shortstops in the organization.
He's in Double-A, Baez is in Triple-A and Starlin Castro is in the majors.
Where is everyone going to play? That's a good problem to have.
Everything is flexible right now, as it should be.
While you can't believe much that comes out of Cubs business chief Crane Kenney's or owner Tom Ricketts' mouths when it comes to renovating Wrigley Field, Epstein and Hoyer have been pretty honest about the organizational mandate to restructure the farm system with depth, specifically with impact bats. And they've been pretty successful at that the past few years.
We're at least a year away -- maybe two or three -- from seeing where Russell fits in with the Cubs.
We're more years away from seeing the Cubs consistently spending "big-market franchise" money on free agents or dealing their own prospects for major leaguers, if you believe the team's mantra about "syncing up" the baseball and business sides.
The Wrigley Field renovations won't be completed until 2019, at the earliest, which is the final year of the team's TV deal with Comcast SportsNet Chicago. While the Cubs are going to market with half their TV games now, the big money doesn't come until the 2020 season.
We should know what position Addison Russell plays by then, and just maybe, the Cubs' position will be buyer, not seller.
The pitcher goes to a winner in Oakland, while Epstein & Co. score another coup.