Sometimes, the best part of a blockbuster trade isn’t the transaction itself but listening to the reaction that follows. The Internet allows you to quickly shift between the cities involved and hear the difference in perception, which was the case Thursday between Oakland and Boston.
Did the A’s swing a great deal to get left-hander Jon Lester, thereby adding to a team with the best record in the American League and make a push for the World Series? Or was it more like the Red Sox, in a lost season, stole a power hitter in Yoenis Cespedes after giving up little in return?
Yes and yes.
You had to consider the source Thursday. The Lester deal injected hope and energy into an A’s fan base that already was excited. Red Sox Nation was thanking Lester for helping Boston win the World Series and fantasizing about watching Cespedes thrive in a ballpark that suits his approach.
The general rule when it comes to evaluating trades is that the team getting the best player, no matter how many are involved, wins the deal. But it’s complicated in the case of Lester and Cespedes, the key figures in a swap that also had Jonny Gomes going to the A’s and a draft pick to the Red Sox.
Lester gives the A’s a dominant pitcher they needed to push them past the first round of the playoffs. GM Billy Beane for years has been masterful in keeping his teams in contention and his payroll in check, but Oakland has been knocked out of the ALDS five games in each of the past two seasons.
The A’s now have one of the top rotations in baseball. It includes three All-Stars – Lester, Scott Kazmir and Jeff Samardzij, a gritty young right-hander in Sonny Gray and a veteran in Jason Hammel. The Tigers, needing to keep up, on Wednesday afternoon acquired 2012 Cy Young Award winner David Price from Tampa Bay, giving Detroit three Cy Young winners.
Lester is a big-game pitcher whose career 2.11 ERA in the postseason includes a 0.43 ERA in three World Series starts. He had a 10-7 record with a 2.52 ERA on a struggling team. Disregard the seven losses, five of which came after the Sox scored two runs or fewer. He’s having one of the best seasons of his career.
Why, of course. It’s a contract year.
Beane is taking a gamble, but who cares? Oakland hasn’t won a title in 25 years. Lester will become a free agent after the season. He’s not likely to re-sign with the A’s, who aren’t in the business of spending big money. They’re not shelling out $20 million per season for a pitcher past his 30th birthday.
Lester already turned down Boston’s four-year offer for $70 million, which was far below market value. He left big money on the table, but he knew there would be more waiting for him in the open market. It’s possible, although unlikely, that the Red Sox will meet his demands in free agency and bring him back.
So they moved him.
Gomes helped the Red Sox win the World Series last season. He hit a key three-run homer in Game Four in a 4-2 victory over St. Louis that tied the series and sent Boston on its way. But he was expendable, a platoon player batting .234 for the last-place team. He’ll have a similar role in Oakland, where he played in 2012.
In return, the Red Sox get a slugger who is signed through next season in Cespedes. The two-time Home Run Derby champion hit 66 homers in two-plus seasons with Oakland. He should hit 30 to 35 homers, and could be good for 40-plus doubles, next year with 81 games in Fenway Park.
Cespedes has a cannon arm that will serve him well in Boston, too, and he helps bridge the divide between their aging stars and young prospects. If he signs an extension and improves at the plate, both of which are possible, the trade will go down as a major heist for the Red Sox.
In the end, Oakland acquired a player it needed while Boston picked up a player it needed. It was a baseball trade involving two players in their prime, and for once it didn’t revolve around money. No matter what’s being said on opposite coasts, the swap worked for both teams. On second thought, that’s the best part.