No drama at the eleventh hour. Following a little more than a week of rumors, the Red Sox and Athletics kicked off the trading deadline with a deal that sends Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes, before many A’s fans had even left for work.
Sox fans — myself included — will lament the loss of Jon Lester not only because he was a fan favorite, but more importantly, because of the pivotal role he played with the Red Sox for the last seven years. Lester rose from the ashes of a non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis to make a spot start in the 2007 World Series, eventually becoming the ace of a staff that would go on to win a second title just last year.
Playing a parallel to Dustin Pedroia, Lester became the captain of the pitching staff, much in the same way Pedroia anchored the lineup, especially following the beer and chicken scandal in 2011, and the fire sale endured at the 2012 trade deadline, which sent Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
I list this, not just to wax nostalgic about Lester, but rather to illustrate the intangibles that he brings to Boston, as well as the central role he seemed to play in the building of this franchise. With all that said, Sox fans have resigned themselves to the inevitability of Lester’s departure in the last week, so what remains is to be determined is not only if this is a good deal — which at its face, I think it is — but, rather, to ask was the deal worth losing players like Jon Lester and Yoenis Cespedes?
Red Sox POV
The Red Sox struggles this year are numerous and range from completely absent offense to inconsistent pitching. There is hope, however, that young pitchers like Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa can be the next generation of the Red Sox pitching staff, although they are, at best, under-tested currently. However, if they prove to be top-of-the-rotation starters in the next year — though having a proven ace like Lester is always a positive — losing Lester does not necessarily pull the plug on a team that is only a few pieces shy of serious contention in the immediate future. Though, as a writer, that is my opinion on the move. As a fan, I would be much happier with the move if the Sox re-sign Lester in the offseason.
Given that this season is likely a wash for the Red Sox, what Cespedes brings is a promising future. An everyday, middle-of-the-lineup corner outfielder has been the missing piece in Boston since Manny Ramirez was dealt at the deadline in 2008. With talk of John Lackey being traded to the Miami Marlins (he was dealt to the Cardinals this morning, but that’s another story), many New Englanders likely went to bed with visions of Giancarlo Stanton in their heads. However, Cespedes fills that same void.
What makes Cespedes such a valuable hitter — and what I think the A’s lose in this deal — is his ability to get on base using the entire field. A quick look at his spray chart shows just how evenly dispersed all of his hits are. The Red Sox are in the top third of the baseball in OBP, but second to worst in the American League in runs. Both Oakland and Boston have built their success on small ball, “moneyball” style offenses, which is what makes Cespedes such a valuable piece in either city.
My bold claim about this deal for Boston is that Cespedes has the potential to build a legacy as one of the greatest all-around left fielders to play at Fenway. That would put him on a list with Ted Williams, Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski and Manny Ramirez. Williams claimed to be the greatest hitter to ever live, and Manny, in addition to his offensive abilities, played The Monster so well that he led the league in outfield assists in 2006. Cespedes not only has the arm — as he has showcased many times this year — but, although he can spray the ball around the field at will, the majority of his home runs in 2014 have all gone straight down the left-field line. Of anyone in Boston, the wall will be Cespedes’ friend.
“Moneyball” offense has proven successful in the last decade or more, but what it has failed to do — at least for Oakland — is win a championship. Previously stated, Cespedes is a good fit for any small-ball club. The problem here is that, while Jonny Gomes fits that model well — and has fit well in Oakland before, going to the playoffs in 2012 — he is not a replacement for Cespedes. Cespedes’ 17 home runs and 67 RBI far surpass Gomes’ six and 32. What I would imagine is that Gomes has proven himself to be a cog, both in Boston and in his time previously in Oakland. However, while cogs are valuable, a championship team necessitates a middle of the lineup that Cespedes and Josh Donaldson provided. Gomes cannot fill the three-spot the same way Cespedes did.
The move for Lester, however, is a great one for the Athletics. In the last month, Oakland has acquired two ace pitchers in Lester and Jeff Samardzija to pair with a resurrected Scott Kazmir and a pitching staff that is second in the American League with a 3.19 team ERA. This is not in the least due to the insights of pitching coach Curt Young, who will reunite with Lester after a brief stint together in 2011. In their time together, Lester went 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA — 0.20 below his career average.
Ultimately, it would appear that Billy Beane and the A’s are making a run at the pennant with an emphasis on pitching. While the additions of both Lester and Gomes are solid, what they gave up in Cespedes will be harmful in the long run. My bold prediction for this move is that the A’s — who are leading a two-horse race in the AL West and have the best record in baseball — will win the West and easily reach the ALCS. I fear being too bold in saying they will reach the World Series, but realistically, the additions of Lester and Samardzija make them a force, particularly against teams like Detroit and Baltimore, who have been overpowered by good pitching staffs in the last three years. Still, that will depend on how the loss of Cespedes impacts the offense. The question remains if pitching will be enough.