The Oakland Athletics stunned the baseball world today by trading staroutfielder Yoenis Cespedes for renowned ace Jon Lester. It’s well known that A’s GM Billy Beane not only isn’t afraid to make a big trade, but seems perpetually in search of the next big move. Did he make one move too many?
In Lester, the A’s got a bona-fide ace with a 2.11 postseason ERA. Lester is also a lefty, providing a perfect counterpart to recently acquired ace Jeff Samardzjia. Today’s trade was seen as the latest in a series of moves aimed at a postseason duel with the pitching-dominant Detroit Tigers (who subsequently traded for Rays ace David Price). Behind their twin aces, the Athletics have Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez to round out a strong rotation. They also have a strong bullpen, including closer Sean Doolittle. Before the trade, the Athletics were first in baseball in runs scored, and had a ridiculous run differential of +162; one might infer they could afford to lose a big bat. Their anticipated left-field platoon of Jonny Gomes and Sam Fuld, both also acquired today, is statistically comparable to Cespedes on offense.
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It bears repeating that the Athletics were first in baseball in runs scored and had a ridiculous run differential of +162. The A’s were outscoring their opposition at a historic rate for this point in the season. As this implies, they were also pitching well; the Athletics were fourth in baseball in team ERA, sixth in quality starts, and second in WHIP and opponent batting average. This was partly on the strength of their defense, which was enhanced by Cespedes’ excellent range and highlight-reel throwing arm. This begs the question: Why fiddle with a team that’s scoring at the highest rate in baseball, outpitching almost everyone and beating opponents at a video-game rate? That sounds like a team best left alone at the trade deadline.
Beyond the numbers
On-paper comparisons notwithstanding, Cespedes was more than just the Athletics’ cleanup hitter. He was a fan favorite, and one of the faces of the franchise. Gomes is known as a great clubhouse influence, but Cespedes was an energizing, charismatic presence. There’s also this: The Oakland Athletics have a losing record without Cespedes in the lineup, going all the way back to 2012. That’s probably not just coincidence. Yoenis Cespedes makes the A’s exceed the sum of their parts.
Always looking to improve, Billy Beane went for it at the trade deadline once again. In doing so, he traded away a piece of his team’s heart and soul. The Athletics are arguably better on paper now. But the true effect of today’s trade is far from a sure thing.