- Jesse Rogers, Chicago Cubs beat reporter
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Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said acquiring top shortstop prospect Addison Russell from the Oakland Athletics on Friday, for veteran pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, was a "no-brainer" and something the team had to do, despite its need for young pitching.
"We would have been very open to getting quality pitching back in this deal but there was no pitcher available who's even close to the caliber of player we feel Addison Russell is," Epstein said on Saturday in a conference call with reporters. "There was no pitching package available that made us think twice on passing on this opportunity."
Russell, 20, will report to Double-A Tennessee as he's fully recovered from a hamstring injury. He was the No. 3-ranked prospect on ESPN.com's top 100 after being drafted by the Athletics in the first round in 2012.
Epstein said he and Athletics general manager Billy Beane discussed a trade about a month ago when Beane made it clear his team would be buyers.
"It became clear we didn't match up one-for-one for Samardzija," Epstein said. "We felt like Russell was a key for us in any deal with Oakland."
By Thursday night, Hammel's name was part of the conversation, as was Oakland's first-round pick in 2013, outfielder Bill McKinney, and pitcher Dan Straily.
On Friday, Hammel was pulled after just 92 pitches in his win over the Washington Nationals and expressed his confusion over it to reporters after the game. Epstein called to tell him a trade could be imminent and management had told manager Rick Renteria to be "smart" when it came to handling Hammel that day.
The Cubs now have some of the best young positional talent in all of the minor leagues. Epstein said that's a commodity in baseball these days.
"If you look at the way the game is going, the batter/pitcher dynamic has shifted in recent years dramatically in favor of the pitcher," Epstein stated. "There are more effective pitchers out there than position players. You can't win without pitching and we understand that and we have a plan to acquire good pitching and to build a really effective pitching staff. But there are more teams out there looking for offense then looking for pitching."
Top Cubs prospect Javier Baez plays shortstop for Triple-A Iowa while former All-Star Starlin Castro is having a resurgent year at that position for the big league team.
"The nice thing about having impact players that are athletic who can play in the middle of the field, and who can hit, is that you have options," Epstein said. "You can never have too many shortstops.
"We feel Javier Baez is a shortstop but we're also confident he can play second base or third base or the outfield if he has to."
Epstein said similar things about minor leaguers Kris Bryant and Arismendy Alcantara, along with Russell. Even Castro has the skills to play another position, according to Epstein.
"Starlin is another guy that is athletic enough and has enough tools to play a couple spots on the diamond but I don't foresee that any time in the near future," Epstein said. "He's getting better at shortstop, he's a weapon at shortstop. This trade had nothing to do with Castro. It had to do with acquiring impact young talent.
"The good thing is these guys can all fit on the field together and really be an impactful group together because of their athleticism and versatility."
Epstein indicated the team wouldn't be in any rush to move anyone they just acquired despite the backlog of infielders. They'll take a step back now and assess their situation with less than a month until the trade deadline.
The next major task will be to acquire pitching as their young position players start making it to the big leagues.
"It's a lot of work ahead on the pitching front but we're excited about what lies ahead on the mound," Epstein said. "Young pitching is hard to build plans around. You look up and guys are hurt, there's attrition, there's Tommy John, there's ineffectiveness.
"We think we have a really outstanding stable of young position player talent that's a great base to build from ... It was a no-brainer for us, if we had a chance to get Addison Russell, that was the deal we had to make. We didn't think twice about it. We felt this was the best deal for the Chicago Cubs."
The Cubs recalled left-handed pitcher Chris Rusin on Saturday to help take the place of Samardzija and Hammel, the team announced.
Rusin, 27, has been up and down with the Cubs over the past couple of seasons. He was 6-10 with a 3.96 ERA at Triple-A Iowa after appearing in one game for the Cubs earlier this season. The Cubs played with a 24-man roster on Saturday against the Nationals.
Epstein indicated the team was still figuring out who would be added to the pitching staff based on rest schedules and 40-man roster options. He included lefties Tsuyoshi Wada and Eric Jokisch along with righties Dallas Beeler, Kyle Hendricks as possibilities to join the Cubs. Wada and Beeler are on the 40-man roster already.
Carlos Villanueva started Saturday's game against the Nationals in Samardzija's place. He allowed four runs in two innings of the 13-0 loss.
"No that had nothing to do with it. We spit out a couple of these," he said. "Today we spit one out. If you ask me -- and I'm answering the question before you even asked it -- no, it had nothing to do with that. We just didn't play a very good game today."
Information from ESPNChicago.com contributor Benjamin Standig was used in this report.