Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - If anyone didn't think that the Oakland Athletics meant business, they certainly do now.
The A's pulled off the first big trade of the 2014 season on Saturday, as they acquired not one, but two starting pitchers, nabbing both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs for a bevy of prospects, including shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney.
As good as Oakland has been there has been some question marks concerning its starting rotation. Scott Kazmir is always one pitch away from an injury, Jesse Chavez had two starts under his belt entering this season, Tommy Milone is inconsistent and as dominant as Sonny Gray has looked at times, he's still only 24 and in his second year.
Overnight, though, the A's have changed that question mark into a strength and now posses perhaps the deepest rotation in the American League.
Other than Tampa's David Price, Samardzija and Hammel were the two most sought after pitchers on the market. And the A's landed both of them in one fell swoop.
Samardzija has pitched well for the Cubs this season, but has been a victim of poor run support. The right-hander owns a 2-7 record with a 2.83 ERA and 103 strikeouts over 108 innings pitched.
Chicago had been shutout five times over his 17 starts this season and it has scored two runs or less in 11 of those outings. That shouldn't be a problem for him in Oakland, as the A's lead the majors with 430 runs scored this season.
Hammel has also been solid, compiling an 8-5 mark with a 2.98 ERA.
Yes, the A's gave up their two top prospects in the deal, but it was one the team had to make. Take a look around the American League. It's there for the A's taking and general manager Billy Beane realized that.
And Samardzija isn't just some hired gun. He is still under team control for next season. If he continues to pitch the way he has this season Oakland can deal him next year and likely recoup the caliber of prospects it lost in Friday's deal.
Or it could choose to hang onto Samardzija and pair him with the returning A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker next season. Didn't we hear the word assets a million times during the recent NBA Draft? Well Oakland still has a ton.
Doesn't it always, though?
Make no mistake this was a trade to get the A's over the hump this season. And it very well may have worked.
Your move rest of the American League.
ALL STAR BALLOT
Major League Baseball's All-Star teams will be announced on Sunday so I figured it was time to name my starters.
It's pointless to pick reserves given the pitchers' rule and the even more mind-numbing policy that each team needs to be represented.
Explain to me again how this game can "count" when each side doesn't have the opportunity to field its best players?
1B, JOSE ABREU, CHICAGO: You could pick Detroit's Miguel Cabrera here and nobody would bat an eye, but why not go with a rookie who can mash. Chicago's Jose Abreu is tied for the major league lead in home runs and is just a few off the pace of the RBI lead. He won't start, but he's a lock to be in Minnesota on the July 17. And he should be.
2B, JOSE ALTUVE, HOUSTON: Jose Altuve is probably the best player in the game you have never heard of. The Astros' diminutive second baseman is having a season for the ages, as he leads the AL in average (.342), hits (121) and stolen bases (37). He's been so good that Houston manager Bo Porter said he should be the AL MVP. If the Astros weren't 15 games under .500 he may be right.
SS, DEREK JETER, NY YANKEES: There has been no better ambassador for Major League Baseball over the last 20 years than Derek Jeter. He may not be worthy anymore, but he deserves one last All-Star Game appearance. And I am not the only one who feels that way, as he currently leads other shortstops by over 500,000 votes. You want Alcides Escobar or Alexei Ramirez in this spot, congrats. We are all proud of how smart you think you are.
3B,ADRIAN BELTRE, TEXAS: Not much has gone right this season for the Texas Rangers, but third baseman Adrian Beltre continues to just be as professional a player as there is in baseball. It seems like forever ago that he was the lazy player that only produced in contract years. Beltre is the only one hitting in the Rangers' lineup with a .335 average and 44 runs batted in.
OF, MIKE TROUT, LOS ANGELES ANGELS: Quite simply he is the best player in the game and if he's not the biggest star, he's certainly on his way to being it. Trout is producing yet another quality season and now that his Angels are actually contending for a playoff spot he may nab that AL MVP award that has eluded him his first two years.
OF, MICHAEL BRANTLEY, CLEVELAND: As good as Trout has been this season, Cleveland's Michael Brantley has put up similar numbers, hitting .312 with 12 home runs and 54 RBI. Not to mention his 10 outfield assists are tied with Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes.
OF, ADAM JONES, BALTIMORE: The third outfield spot could go to a number of guys. Toronto's Melky Cabrera, Cespedes and Kansas City's Alex Gordon would all be great choices, but I'm going with Baltimore's Adam Jones. The leader of the Orioles, Jones is having another tremendous year and other than Trout, he might be the most complete player in the American League.
C, SALVADOR PEREZ, KANSAS CITY: Perez was an All-Star last season and should be on his way to another appearance. Besides being terrific behind the plate Perez is hitting .283 with 10 home runs and leads all AL backstops with a .780 OPS.
DH, EDWIN ENCARNACION, TORONTO: Baltimore's Nelson Cruz could certainly fit the bill here, but it's close. Cruz also served a PED ban last year, so Edwin Encarnacion gets the edge for me. It's not as if he's not deserving, either as he's hit 26 home runs and his 69 RBI lead Major League Baseball.
SP, MASAHIRO TANAKA, NEW YORK: If you want to pick Felix Hernandez here, go right ahead. They are both clearly the two best pitchers in the AL this season. Tanaka gets my nod, though, since he at times has looked downright dominant. He leads the AL in wins and is pitching to a 2.27 ERA and that's with having allowed the majority of the runs he's given up this season in his last few starts. Hernandez may very win his second AL Cy Young Award this season, but Tanaka has been the best pitcher through the first half.
1B, PAUL GOLDSCHMIDT, ARIZONA: Amid the Diamondbacks? horrible season first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is having another excellent year, batting .300 with 15 homers and a league-leading 28 doubles for a .921 OPS that nearly matches last year's career-high of .952.
2B, CHASE UTLEY, PHILADELPHIA: Chase Utley is having a terrific bounce-back season. He is going to win the fan vote and its not even close statistically. He's once again the best second baseman in the NL.
SS, TROY TULOWITZKI, COLORADO: Troy Tulowitzki has been relatively healthy this season and, of course, is putting up MVP numbers. You can moan all you want about his home/away splits, but you sound silly doing so at this point. He's as good as anyone in the game when he is on the field. Get used to hearing his name because you are going to hear it a lot in trade discussions this winter. Then we can talk about those splits.
3B, TODD FRAZIER, CINCINNATI: Did I say Altuve was the best player you have never heard of? I was wrong. It's Cincinnati third baseman Todd Frazier. There is no way in the world a casual baseball fan knows that Frazier leads NL third basemen in home runs (17), slugging (.506), on-base plus slugging (.864), steals (13) and WAR (3.5) and was second in RBI (48) and average among qualified batters (.292).
OF, ANDREW MCCUTCHEN, PITTSBURGH: When it is all said and done in the NL this season don't be surprised if McCutchen is walking away with his second MVP Award. The Pirates got off to an awful start, but are starting to come on. And lo and behold who has been at the center of it. McCutchen, of course, who was just named the Player of the Month for June.
OF, GIANCARLO STANTON, MIAMI: Giancarlo Stanton has established himself this season as the premier power hitter in the game. He leads the NL in both HR (21) and RBI (69) and is even hitting for average (.309). One of the highlights during the All-Star festivities will be him in the Home Run Derby. The trade rumors persist, but Miami would be crazy to get rid of this 24-year- old monster.
OF, YASIEL PUIG, LOS ANGELES: This is a game of stars picked by the fans. Who's a bigger star than Yasiel Puig? Sure he makes Don Mattingly crazy, but man, that talent. When he is on there might not be a more exciting player to watch than him regardless of what he's doing.
C, JONATHAN LUCROY, MILWAUKEE: Milwaukee has been the NL's best team since the get-go and should be rewarded with an All-Star starter. Outfielder Carlos Gomez fell just short in my list, but catcher Jonathan Lucroy fits the bill. The backstop leads his position with a .333 average and his nine home runs and 44 RBI are among the league leaders at the position as well.
DH, JUSTIN MORNEAU, COLORADO: I love bounce-back stories and none has been better than Justin Morneau out in Colorado. The former AL MVP's career in Minnesota was derailed by a nasty concussion and some other injuries, but he looks as good as new with the Rockies, hitting .315 with 13 home runs and 59 RBI. More importantly he's been healthy.
SP, CLAYTON KERSHAW, LOS ANGELES: I wanted to pick Adam Wainwright, but Clayton Kershaw is just so darn good. yes he missed the first month of the season, but really is there a better pitcher in baseball than him? Kershaw already has two NL Cy Young Awards under his belt, but he may be in the best stretch of his career at the moment. Starting Kershaw is really a no brainer. Even for St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, who'll likely lean toward his guy.