MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal said it best this morning as the July 31st MLB trade deadline heats up and draws to a close:
“Oakland is the protagonist and in a market when trades are difficult to make and general managers normally operate out of fear, Oakland’s the complete opposite.”
If former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was alive he’d be slapping his legs and shaking his head in approval of GM Billy Beane’s aggressive, live-for-the-moment, championship flow. The biggest trades of the season have been made by Oakland who smells World Series blood in the MLB waters, but is also trying to elude the stacked LA Angels, who are hot on their heels in the AL West.
The king of money ball has been moving and shaking and uncharacteristically dumping prospects and taking on star players making stud money in a turned-up effort to finally snatch that elusive World Series ring. In Beane’s latest power move, the Athletics – who already own baseball’s best record - have acquired ace pitcher Jon Lester from the Red Sox in a deal that will send slugger Yoenis Cespedes and outfielder Jonny Gomes to Boston. The Red Sox will also get Oakland's competitive balance draft pick.
The deal marks the end of Lester's stellar and emotionally captivating stint with the Red Sox, who won two World Series with the left-hander leading their rotation. From his battle with lymphoma to his recovery and 2008 no-hitter and three All-star nods (2010, 2011, 2014), Lester is a beloved Red Sox. His 110 career wins is second most all-time by a Red Sox lefty pitcher behind Mel Parnell’s 123.
The 30-year-old Lester, Boston's lone All-Star this season, is 10-7 with a 2.52 ERA and was scheduled to become a free agent after this season, but contract negotiations stalled this past offseason, when Lester reportedly turned down Boston's four-year, $70 million offer.
Lester’s people believe his market value is similar to the 6-year $144 million deal that Detroit’s Max Scherzer turned down in the spring. The Red Sox are in a brief rebuilding stage and looking to restock and reload for 2015 and 2016. They didn’t want to invest that much in a pitcher on the northside of 30.
On the flip side, Lester’s been very durable, making 30-plus starts every season since 2008 and averaging over 200 innings pitched in those seasons. Boston fans wanted Lester to stay and he publicly expressed a desire to remain with the squad. He’s a home grown ace with a lot of history with Red Sox fans. That’s a tough commodity to find in today’s game where players move like chess pieces across a board from team to team. Boston also traded veteran pitcher John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals for former World Series star Allen Craig and righty starter Joe Kelly.
It’s said that Billy Beane lives for this kind of moment, but in the past, Beane has been credited as a genius who gets by with “less.” But the "less" is never good enough to finish the season as the best.
During Bean’s reign as GM (1997-Present), the A’s were often credited with being a team void of stars but full of sabermetrically-driven chemistry and an eclectic mix of youth and inspired vets. His Steinbrenner-like wheeling and dealing this season shows an evolution and change of style by a guy who people at one time said had all the answers.
Beane himself has said that people value the future over the present too much in baseball these days. Hording picks and getting bargain basement talent was Beane’s M.O. Now he’s clearing out the farm system and trading clean up hitters to stack arms to make more trades and build a pitching juggernaut in Oakland the likes of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. If that’s hyperbole, then a more rational comparison would be Roger Clemens, David Cone, Andy Pettitte and El Duque from that 1999 Yankees Dynasty team.
The deal marks the second time in less than a month that the first-place Athletics have made a blockbuster trade to bolster their starting pitching.
Oakland received All-Star hurler Jeff Samardzija and veteran right-hander Jason Hammel in a trade with the Chicago Cubs on July 5.
He better be right. Lester will join a star-studded Athletics rotation that already includes Samardzija, a revived Scott Kazmir and young hurler Sonny Gray.
While the trade bolsters the A’s rotation to playoff-ready status, it was hardly a heist. Cespedes is the A’s cleanup batter and the two-time reigning Home Run Derby champion who has 17 homers and 56 RBIs this season.
The Samardzjia trade was costly as well. Oakland traded its best prospect (Addison Russell) and 2013 first-round pick (Billy McKinney) all for a playoff run with no guarantees. There will be no compensation if (given his likely price tag — when) Lester departs as a free agent, as baseball’s collective bargaining agreement prohibits players who did not spend the entire regular season on one team from receiving qualifying offers.
Cespedes is signed through 2015 and gives the Red Sox, who are confident they can sign him to a long-term deal, the big bopper in the outfield they desperately need. Boston’s outfield slugging percentage is the worst in baseball at .344. There’s even a possibility that they can get Lester back in the off-season as his contract is expiring. In any event, the trade is a huge risk by Beane, who couldn’t chance losing the division or facing one-game elimination for a playoff spot.
Other teams were in pursuit of Lester, particularly in the National League, but Beane was quicker on the draw. And don’t think Beane is just going to leave a gaping hole at the “damage” spot in his lineup. Gomes won’t replace Cespedes’ power or his .256/.303/.464 batting line, but he’s a formidable opponent against lefties, having hitv.302/.400/.431 against southpaws in 2014 and .279/.379/.495 in his career.
Besides, most insiders believe Beane isn’t finished masterminding this run.
“I wouldn’t put anything past Beane," sportswriter Jon Heyman said. “He has expendable starting pitchers to trade for a hitter. This trade shows they’re going for it all. I get that. My only question now is do they get more offense? Losing Cespedes is a very big deal. They may do some other things. It won’t shock me at all.”
Other MLB Trade Rumors: Some more minor trades will be made before the deadline. As we reported on July 28th, it looks like David Price is staying with Tampa Bay as they try to steal the AL East crown with a second-half burst, for the second season in a row, but anything could happen. Detroit, St. Louis and Seattle are also rumored to have interest .Cole Hammels of the Phillies is another name that is getting thrown around.
Regardless of what trades go down before the “trade deadline” ends today, trades can still be made next month, in September and right up until the end of the year. Thursday is just the end of the rules that make it easy to deal, because once August hits, waivers become involved and things get complicated. Don’t assume the biggest trade you’ll see this season has been made already either. Most of the players with mega contracts get moved in August so there’s still a possibility guys like control-freak Cliff Lee, Matt Kemp or closer Jonathan Papelbon could change the fortunes of some lucky team.