The Oakland Athletics needed a boost. They're sitting in first place in the American League West and have a team that can win it. General manager Billy Beane has been waiting years for this. And he's also sick of the disappointment of getting knocked out of the playoffs early by the Detroit Tigers.
So they needed a stud pitcher to lead them. A guy they can go to in the decisive Game 5 of an early series and count on a win. Teams that win in the playoffs have that. So they went after a stud pitcher who doesn't have any playoff experience. When the Athletics traded their top two prospects on Friday, it was more about having that top guy for two playoff runs than anything.
An ace costs a lot and the Athletics knew that. They just aren't out there and available. So they got Samardzija and Jason Hammel, who is having a career season, was just the icing on the cake.
While Samardzija certainly isn't a proven playoff pitcher, he is a proven commodity. The Cubs knew he planned to walk at the end of next season, and they didn't want to be left empty handed or get a reduced rate for a short-term rental near the trade deadline next season.
So they went to work early and found the right trading partner early.
For his part, Samardzija is ecstatic to finally be part of a contender. He left Chicago with a 2.83 ERA and a ridiculous 2-7 record that reflects how little the Cubs were able to support him. That's why, once he got to Oakland, he was more than a little excited to get going. Before his debut on Sunday, MLB.com reported that Samardzija showed up nearly three hours before the starting pitcher normally arrives.
"He almost beat me here this morning," A's manager Bob Melvin told MLB.com. "He has a lot of fun in the clubhouse and is serious when he's on the field. He fits in very well, and great to get him off to a good start."
Samardzija was dominant in his debut and immediately meshed with all-star catcher Derek Norris. He allowed just four hits and one run in seven innings, earning just his third win of the season. But it was way more than that. It was a rebirth, a chance to compete at the highest level and his first real shot at winning a title.
It's one of those rare trades that really worked well for both teams, the kind that most teams are afraid to pull off anymore in the Athletics position because of the chance of diminishing returns from the players they traded for as those prospects flourish.
There are too many cautionary tales around, anything from the Kansas City trading prospect Wil Myers for James Shields, to the Detroit Tigers trading prospect John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander. The team sending away the top prospects usually lives to regret the decision unless they win a World Series out of it. And we all know how hard that is to attain.
For a day, and for the next season and a half, the Athletics will reap the benefit of the trade. Beyond that, it's somewhat doubtful they will pull out the pocketbook and pay Samardzija what he wants in a long-term deal.
Until then, however, he will enjoy the increased run support and opportunity to finally play for a winner after spending so many seasons with the downtrodden yet now rebuilding Cubs.
"It was beautiful, man. That was awesome," Samardzija told MLB.com about the run support. "Just getting one early run as a pitcher is like the best thing ever. You can go out and pound the zone and understand if a guy gets on base, so be it."
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