A’s acquire Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel from Cubs for Addison Russell

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FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal says the deal is done and that the A’s will get both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, giving up top shortstop prospect Addison Russell in return. He adds that other players and teams may be involved.

11:00 p.m. EDT update: the deal is offical. Along with Russell, the Cubs will get outfield prospect Billy McKinney and right-hander Dan Straily.

Straily will presumably fill one of the vacancies in the Cubs rotation. Veteran Japanese hurler Tsuyoshi Wada could get the other one. Russell and McKinney won’t be factors in the short term, but they further boost a system that’s already loaded offensively.

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Baseball’s best team is aiming to make a preemptive strike, according to FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal. The A’s and Cubs are talking about a deal that could send Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel or perhaps both to Oakland.

Both Rosenthal and CBS Sports.com’s Jon Heyman are reporting that top prospect Addison Russell is being discussed. Russell, a plus defensive shortstop with definite All-Star potential, is Oakland’s top prospect and one of the five or 10 best in the game.

For that reason, it’s hard to imagine the A’s giving Russell up without getting an ace in return, especially with the Rays’ David Price, the Phillies’ Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee and the Red Sox’s Jon Lester all potentially becoming available later this month. Russell should be a top target of any of those teams should they choose to deal.

Meanwhile, the Cubs were thought to be more focused on landing young pitching. They already possess another one of the game’s four elite shortstop prospects in Javier Baez (the other two being Houston’s Carlos Correa and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor), plus a nifty incumbent in Starlin Castro. If they have the chance to get Russell, they should jump and then worry about the fit later. Russell is a better defensive shortstop than Baez and would be the more likely of the two to stay at the position.

Meanwhile, the A’s aren’t exactly suffering with their current crew. Third starter Jesse Chavez has a 3.23 ERA, and fourth starter Tommy Milone shut out the Blue Jays for six innings today to lower his ERA to 3.55. Fifth starter Drew Pomeranz is on the DL, but Brad Mills has looked adequate filling in for him, and Dan Straily is still kicking in Triple-A if needed.

Straily, in fact, would seem to be an obvious part of a Samardzija or Hammel trade, what with the Cubs’ penchant for taking on young, underachieving major league starters. It’s a strategy that has netted them Jake Arrieta and Travis Wood. Pomeranz might also fit that bill.

Samardzija, for what it’s worth, has one year left of arbitration in 2015 and should make somewhere in the $10 million neighborhood next year. Hammel will be a free agent at season’s end.

So, we’ll see what this all comes to. The thinking here is that since the A’s are most likely going to the postseason regardless, it’s not worth sacrificing Russell for a non-ace (and maybe not even for an ace). Samardzija and Hammel have had excellent seasons, with both sporting sub-3.00 ERAs and striking out 8.5 batters per nine innings in the NL, but neither will be any kind of sure thing headed into the postseason. That’s particularly true of Hammel, who is on pace to easily eclipse his previous career high of 177 2/3 innings.

MLB to crack down on sign stealing

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We’ve had a couple of notable incidents of sign stealing in Major League Baseball over the past couple of years. Most famously, the Red Sox were found to be using Apple Watches of all things to relay signs spied via video feed. Sports Illustrated reported yesterday that there have been other less-publicized and unpublicized incidents as well, mostly with in-house TV cameras — as opposed to network TV cameras — stationed in the outfield and trained on catchers, for the specific purpose of stealing signs.

As such, SI reports, Major League Baseball is cracking down beginning this year. Within the next couple weeks an already-drafted and circulated rule will take effect which will (a) ban in-house outfield cameras from foul pole to foul pole; (b) will limit live broadcasts available to teams to the team’s replay official only, and the replay official will be watched by a league official to keep them from relaying signs to the team; and (c) other TV monitors that are available to the clubs will be on an eight-second delay to prevent real-time sign stealing. There will likewise be limits on TV monitors showing the game feed in certain places like tunnels and clubhouses.

Penalties for violation of the rules will include the forfeiting of draft picks and/or international spending money. General managers will have to sign a document in which they swear they know of know sign-stealing schemes.

As was the case when the Apple Watch incident came up, there will not be any new rules regarding old fashioned sign stealing by runners on second base or what have you, as that is viewed as part of the game. Only the technology-aided sign stealing that has become more prominent in recent years — but which has, of course, existed in other forms for a very, very long time — is subject to the crackdown.

While gamesmanship of one form or another has always been part of baseball, the current wave of sign-stealing is seen as a pace-of-play issue just as much as a fairness issue. Because of the actual sign-stealing — and because of paranoia that any opponent could be stealing signs — clubs have gone to far more elaborate and constantly changing sign protocols. This requires mound meetings and pitchers coming off the rubber in order to re-start the increasingly complex series of signs from dugout to catcher and from catcher to pitcher.

Now, presumably, with these new rules coming online, teams will figure out a new way to cheat. It’s baseball, after all. It’s in their DNA.