When the Oakland Athletics traded Addison Russell during the 2014 season, he was one of the top prospects in the game. They still won that deal.
The Oakland Athletics were in a tough spot heading into July in 2014. They were desperately attempting to hold on to a playoff berth, let alone the AL West lead, as the Angels were beginning to hit their stride. Injuries had hit the rotation, leaving Oakland in need of proven arms for their postsesaon push.
On July 5, the A’s made a deal. Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija were shipped to Oakland, with Dan Straily, Billy McKinney, and Addison Russell heading back to Chicago. While McKinney and Straily were solid prospects in their own right, the prize of the trade was Russell, a consensus top 15 prospect heading into the season.
Even with that deal, the A’s were not done remaking their rotation, acquiring Jon Lester from the Red Sox to further fortify their pitching staff. Hammel and Samardzija were solid additions, despite their losing records. Hammel fortified the back of the rotation, while Samardzija was the middle of the rotation arm Oakland needed.
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From the Cubs standpoint, the trade, and the results, were about Russell. Straily allowed 20 runs, 18 earned, in his 13.2 innings in Chicago. McKinney never reached the majors with the Cubs, being sent away to the Yankees two years later. Russell, however, was a different story.
He was a consensus top five prospect prior to the 2015 season, expected to be the long term solution at short for the Cubs. And he did have a solid beginning with the Cubs, displaying some pop in his bat and being named to the 2016 All Star Game. Russell was the starting shortstop on the team that broke the Curse of the Billy Goat, theoretically cementing his legacy
But Russell simply was not the player he was expected to be. In his five years with the Cubs, he posted a career .242/.313/.392 batting line, hitting 100 doubles and 60 homers. However, his play had begun to slip both offensively and defensively, with Russell’s declining production belying his 26 years of age.
But that was not the worst part for the once highly regarded infielder. Russell was placed on administrative leave due to allegations of spousal abuse, keeping him out for the end of the 2018 season. His eventual 40 game suspension sidelined him for the beginning part of 2019, a year that ended up being his worst major league showing.
Russell, at this point, remains a free agent. Despite plenty of teams needing help in the middle of their infield, the rumor mill had been decidedly silent regarding Russell. Usually, former top prospects will get chance after chance to prove themselves, but not in this case. The circus is not worth the price of admission.
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The Oakland Athletics may have lost the Addison Russell trade based on WAR. But considering how his career turned out, the A’s really did win that deal.