CHICAGO -- A few days ago, we talked about the Cubs' recent trend of rinse, wash, repeat.
They'd go into a season, and at some point they'd trade veteran pitching for good prospects and then lose a bunch of games in the second half.
Team president Theo Epstein put fans through that wringer again late Friday, trading top starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics for highly regarded prospects.
When I put the question to him directly Saturday during a conference call, Epstein said he hopes the Cubs will be smelling spring fresh as early as next year.
In other words, this may be the end of rinse, wash, repeat.
"We talked about that a lot internally as we went through this process, that we certainly hope that this is the last year that we'll be obvious sellers at the trade deadline," Epstein said. "Nothing would make us happier than being in the position that Oakland is in, which is to aggressively add to the big-league team and add to the team's chances of making the postseason and winning the World Series.
"We repeated to ourselves that this type of move, being sellers, is not what we want to do. If' we're going to do it, we need to make it count, and we need to get a player back who significantly impacts the organization or helps make our future a heck of a lot better. It's not something we take lightly."
For Samardzija and Hammel, the Cubs got shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney, pitcher Dan Straily and a player to be named later.
Russell was the key to the deal. He and McKinney were the top two players in Oakland's farm system, according to Baseball America rankings.
Russell was Oakland's first-round pick in the 2012 Draft (11th overall out of high school) and McKinney was the club's first-round pick in the 2013 draft (24th overall out of high school).
Epstein said Athletics general manager Billy Beane called "about a month ago," expressing interest in both Samardzija and Hammel.
"At that time we started to focus our scouting efforts on Addison Russell," Epstein said, adding that several Cubs people watched Russell as he came back from a hamstring injury to make sure he was 100 percent healthy. "It became clear we didn't match up one for one with Samardzija. We felt like Russell was a key for us in any deal with Oakland."
Epstein said the Cubs and A's talked by phone Thursday night, when the deal "grew." The two sides reached "a deal in principle" Friday afternoon, after the Cubs' late-morning game at Washington, which Hammel started and won.
Russell, 20, has played in 18 games this year between Class A Stockton and Class AA Midland, going .297/.400/.422 with a homer and 9 RBI. Last year, he played in 107 games for Stockton and three for Class AAA Sacramento, going a combined .269/.369/.495 with 17 homers and 60 RBI.
Epstein called him a "two-way player with tremendous instincts and tremendous hands." The Cubs also are loaded at shortstop, with Starlin Castro having an all-star caliber season at the big-league level and former top pick Javier Baez knocking on the door at Class AAA Iowa. Epstein said the Cubs do not immediately have to consider position changes for some of these players and that Castro is still a centerpiece of the team at short.
"The nice thing about having impact players who are athletic, who can play in the middle of the field and can hit, you have options," Epstein said. "If you look around baseball, some of the best outfielders in the game came up as shortstops. Some of the best third basemen in the game came up as shortstops. Some of the best second basemen in the game came up as shortstops. Some of the best first basemen came up as shortstops. You can never have enough shortstops; they end up all over the field."
While Epstein said the Cubs believe Baez is a shortstop, they're confident he can play third base or second base.
McKinney, 19, has a hitting line of .241/.330/.400 at Stockton. Straily was 1-2 with a 4.93 ERA in 7 games with the A's this year and 4-3 with a 4.71 ERA at Class AAA Sacramento. Last year, he went 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA for Oakland.
Samardzija and Hammel were the Cubs' top two pitchers for most of the season, with Jake Arrieta (obtained in a similar trade last year) coming on recently.
Samardzija was scheduled to start Saturday at Washington, but the Cubs went with veteran swingman Carlos Villanueva. The Cubs called up lefty Chris Rusin to fill one roster spot. Epstein said they'd look at other pitchers' schedules at Iowa. The candidates include Dallas Beeler, Kyle Hendricks, lefty Eric Jokisch and veteran lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, who will start one of Tuesday's doubleheader games at Cincinnati.
Although the Cubs likely will lose more than they win in the second half, they may be able to avoid free-fall because there is some quality among those arms.
Epstein wants Cubs fans to know that better days ahead.
"It's not a secret that we now have an extremely talented, and extremely deep group of potential impact position players age 20-22 who are moving very quickly through our system," Epstein said. "These are real prospects. Not all of them work out, but we like these players quite a bit. They'll have a chance to play together for a long time at Wrigley Field.
"When you put that together with a couple of 24-year-old all-star caliber players (Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo), we can't help but be excited about the future. I really feel like there's light at the end of the tunnel."
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