The Oakland A’s made fireworks with a blockbuster trade to land both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel on the Fourth of July, according to ESPN insider Keith Law, giving up Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, Dan Straily and a player to be named later.
With it, they made one thing abundantly clear to the rest of baseball: The A’s are going for it all right now, and they are your 2014 World Series favorites.
This team already had MLB’s best record (53-33) and the American League’s best rotation before acquiring a dominant duo from the north side of Chicago. Oakland now has nothing short of an embarrassment of riches.
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But let’s be honest—we’ve seen this all before. The A’s have always had arms for days, seemingly cornering the market in young, prized mound artists. What makes this the team that can finally break the playoff failures the franchise has seen during the Billy Beane run?
In a word: offense. Oakland is leading all of baseball with 430 runs scored and has a powerful trio of Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes leading the charge with a combined 51 home runs and 178 runs batted in before the All-Star break.
Throw in 72 more RBI from the remarkable catching trio of Derek Norris, John Jaso and Stephen Vogt, and you have a team that can shut you out and put up crooked numbers all over the scoreboard.
There is one key element of this trade that needs to be discussed, however.
In the deal, the A's sacrificed one of baseball's best prospects in Addison Russell, a shortstop soon to be ranked No. 6 in Baseball Prospectus' next top-50 list (per BP's own Jason Parks):
This would be fine and dandy if Samardzija were a legitimate piece of Oakland's future. The reality is, the ace pitcher will sprint away from the Bay Area for a $100 million contract in a little more than a year while the A's sit back and look to execute their next move.
Hammel is a free agent following the 2014 season as well, so this smells very much like a bold rental to push for a World Series title that has suddenly fallen right into their laps.
A feel-good story for one of MLB's most beloved underdogs has transformed into a Yankees-like championship-or-bust mentality, something this franchise is certainly not used to. A mediocre landscape of teams across the American League should give the A's confidence, but the overhanging pressure of a bull's-eye on their backs will be quite the hurdle to overcome.
If 2014's bright hopes end in failure, Oakland will be just fine. The team will let Hammel walk and replace him with what it hopes is the Jarrod Parker of old—and we have no reason to believe he won't be, even after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery.
And if all goes to hell, Billy Beane will simply hop on the telephone and trade Samardzija away to replenish the pieces he sacrificed to acquire him in the first place. The Matt Holliday experiment in 2009 provides a clear precedent there. (He was traded to St. Louis for Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson after appearing in 93 games with Oakland after signing on as a free agent.)
The benefit of acquiring a coveted pitching asset whose arm has very little mileage on it is that MLB teams will be no less desperate for his services a year from now. Samardzija can be flat-out nasty, and his body type and limited wear and tear should keep him healthy.
The A's have identified a rare opportunity to break their 25-year title drought, and they just made the deal they had to make to build a proper postseason-ready rotation.
Who is MLB's World Series favorite post-trade?
Some will question the forfeiture of such a dynamic prospect for what essentially amounts to a one-year rental, but it's a rental that makes the difference between contender and clear-cut favorite in the American League, and that's always a deal worth making.
These are not the A's of 2002, when a 103-win team was just ninth in MLB in runs scored during the height of the steroid era. This team can mash, and it also has as deep a bullpen as anyone in the sport.
The A's are making a stand and going for it all in 2014. When you put the pieces together, it looks like they just might succeed.