OAKLAND, Calif. -- The beginning of July's first blockbuster trade occurred about a month ago, when Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane called Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein to ask about Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
Beane told Epstein he liked the starting pitchers, and he was going to be aggressive in an attempt to improve the AL West leaders. Fast forward to this weekend, when Beane proved just how serious he was during that initial call.
Oakland and Chicago announced a big trade on Saturday, with Samardzija and Hammel heading to the West Coast for a package of prospects that included the A's first-round selections in each of the past two drafts.
The Athletics began the day with the best record in baseball, but Beane felt he needed to add depth to a rotation that responded well to season-ending injuries for Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin. Drew Pomeranz also is on the disabled list with a broken right hand.
Samardzija and Hammel join Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray and Tommy Milone in one of the majors' best group of starting pitchers.
"We had to dig into our depth really early, and we felt like we needed two (starting pitchers)," Beane said.
Minor leaguers Addison Russell, Billy McKinney and Dan Straily went to Chicago in another painful deal for the lowly Cubs, who have played better of late, but are still last in the NL Central. Chicago also gets a player to be named in its latest July sell-off.
The Cubs lost at least 91 games in each of the previous three years. They traded away starting pitchers Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm in July 2012, and Matt Garza and Scott Feldman last July.