A’s block­buster should ensure deep playoff run

When the A’s hosted Toronto on Independence Day Friday, the early-afternoon game time — thus avoiding any night-time pyrotechnics — left some disappointed.

But in the end, fans got the best fireworks show the A’s could have put on, and didn’t have to pay a premium for it.

The acquisition of pitchers Jeff Samardjiza and Jason Hammel — for two prospects and a pitcher that would only play in Oakland if something really bad happened — is exactly what the A’s needed for a deep postseason run.

First, the nuts and bolts. Oakland gave up two of their last three first round picks. Addison Russell, a shortstop with a projected ceiling similar to those new space shuttles NASA is working on. The talent was undeniable, and Russell is a big prize for Chicago.

Billy McKinney, an outfielder Oakland drafted in the first round last year, has hit 10 home runs in 333 plate appearances for the A’s high-A affiliate in Stockton. McKinney has no real timetable for a call-up to the majors seeing as he was drafted in 2013, but 2017 is a fair assumption.

Dan Straily was also dealt, though he is little more than pitching depth for about any team, regardless of how good or bad the staff is.

Oakland gave up to bolster their rotation from tops in the American League, to tops in all of baseball. And it’s not a small price to pay, but they certainly get back a great return on investment.

Hammel isn’t a flamethrower. He’s not, nor will he ever be close to Justin Verlander in his prime. But he does resemble Tim Hudson pitching in AT&T Park, with a 41 percent ground ball rate and just over 78 percent of baserunners being left stranded.

Hammel’s field independent pitching number, 3.16, is premium. Especially for a guy who induces ground balls on every other batter.

If you’re not familiar with FIP, get to know it well. Here’s an excerpt from Fangraphs:

“FIP measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average.”

Simply, the A’s have the second best FIP score (3.68) in the AL, and Hammel’s score is 50 points below that. That’s good news.

Samardjiza has an even better 3.07, though he strikes batters out at a much higher rate. To be perfectly clear, both pitchers have played better than anyone who started the year with Oakland, which is a big deal, seeing as the A’s already had one of the best rotations in the game.

Is it worth letting go of your two top prospects? Without a doubt, yes. Because what they lose in the long-term can quickly be made up with a shiny World Series ring. And the two pitchers make Oakland a clear favorite.

And, should the A’s want to add more long-term depth at some point in the next year or two, they have the pieces to do it. But what’s depth without a ring?

Surely there’s plenty of women who can answer that, ones who know what it’s like to be strung along for a few years, just to find out that the guy they fell for just wasn’t that serious.

The same could have been said for the A’s since 2012, a team that has dominated in the regular season, only being set up for a hard letdown when things get real in October.

But that streak ends with Hammel and Samardjiza.

Oakland now has every tool they need to make a run at any top National League team. There’s an inkling in my prefrontal cortex that says A’s general manager Billy Beane isn’t close to finished moving pieces.

But that same region of my medulla oblongata argues that the A’s already have enough to get things done. And then a little deeper, an echo of James Earl Jones rings out:

“If you build it, they will come. … People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years has been baseball.”

It’s hard to argue that wherever Kevin Costner and Jones set up their ballgame wasn’t a premium venue, though the Coliseum certainly can’t compete. So even if the A’s can’t materialize a new ballpark in Oakland, they’ve built themselves something special.


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