A Cubs trade to remember

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Cubs Jeff Samardzija

Jeff Samardzija is impressed with his teams defensive work against the Yankees earlier this season. (Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune / May 21, 2014)

Theo Epstein just completed a spectacular deal. So spectacular, in fact, that we could look back on dealing Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s as the turning point of Epstein’s idea of sustained excellence.

Even if that’s not the case, the deal that landed shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney and right-handed pitcher Dan Straily makes the Cubs the chip leader at the World Series of Prospects.

In trading the two pitchers who have been their best since opening day, the Cubs landed the A’s top two draft picks from the last two years. That’s how you restock a system, boys and girls.

But wait. There’s more. Russell ranked fifth in Baseball America’s midseason list of prospects. The Cubs already had the No. 2 prospect in Kris Bryant and No. 7 in Javier Baez. I don’t believe the Cubs have ever owned three of the top seven prospects in my lifetime. That doesn’t make up for not winning a World Series in anybody’s lifetime, but that’s how you at least get there.

McKinney, meanwhile, also ranks in the top 100, and both new Cubs prospects are 20 years old, not 30 or close the way Samardzija and Hammel are.

The trade makes the Cubs’ major league team a lot worse and makes the minor league system the best in baseball. Perfect. That’s what the Cubs need and want right now. No use threatening .500 with the big club. No use making next year’s draft slot worse to continue stockpiling talent. No use keeping players who will be on the wrong side of 30 when the Cubs start contending.

And when exactly will that be?

Not the end of the decade. That’s about as solid an answer as I can give. I had the Cubs’ five-year plan turning into an eight-year plan -- at least -- because they have almost no star pitching in their minor league system and lack depth altogether.

Pitching will determine how soon and how good for the Cubs. It does for every team, sure, but it’s a glaring hole when you see the way the Cubs have restocked the farm system with bats.

Power bats too. Right-handed power bats. Russell has pop. Bryant and Baez we already knew had pop. All right-handed, a commodity that’s hard to find these days.

The Cubs know shortstops and center fielders. They haven’t shown they know pitching. Don’t worry about having too many shortstops and center fielders. Those are the two most important defensive positions in the lineup. They’re valued around baseball, especially when they are right-handed and have pop. The idea is to figure out which ones you want, then trade the others for the pitching you need.

The Mets and Marlins, for instance, have already been linked to the Cubs in potential minor leaguer-for-minor leaguer deals because they have young pitching and need bats. Think of it as Match.com with jock itch.

This deal gives the Cubs baseball-talent currency like they’ve never had. If they spend it wisely, they can acquire minor league arms and develop them before, I don’t know, 2019. They also could spend it on major league pitching that can change the outlook a lot sooner given the bullet train some of their best prospects are riding to Wrigley.

Either way, if the Cubs ever shake this century-plus of heartbreaking and horrible baseball, Friday’s deal is the one you circle.

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