The inevitable happened Thursday morning, as the Boston Red Sox traded left-hander Jon Lester, a free-agent-to-be who was expected to test the open market after the two sides failed for months to reach an agreement in contract-extension talks. Turns out, that actually worked out pretty well for the Red Sox.
In exchange for what amounts to a rental of Lester and outfielder/designated hitter Jonny Gomes for two months plus the postseason, Boston landed slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and a 2015 draft pick in the competitive-balance round.
That, folks, is a surprising coup for the Red Sox under the circumstances.
Not only do they get a major piece to help them start their 2015 turnaround in the 28-year-old Cespedes, an in-his-prime bat whose power will play up away from O.co Coliseum and at Fenway Park, but the club also gets a valuable early selection next year to use toward restocking its still-formidable farm system.
Beyond all that, there's this: The Red Sox simply could re-sign Lester this offseason if they so choose. After all, there's likely no way the small-market Athletics can afford to retain him.
Plus, when the trade-then-sign scenario was proposed to him, the 29-year-old southpaw recently told Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston: "Yeah, why not? I mean, this is what I know, this is what I love. Like I've said many times, this is where I want to be. If they trade me, I completely understand."
Does that mean Lester will, in fact, be a member of the 2015 Red Sox? No. But considering Cespedes is clearly a play for 2015—after which he can become a free agent since he signed a four-year deal with Oakland in 2012—this is a pretty good indication that Boston is aiming to come back in a big way after a disappointing 2014.
Whether that means going big to bring back Lester or bring in another major piece via free agency, Boston general manager Ben Cherington now has more freedom to decide from multiple options that will be available.
As for the A's side of things, this is their second all-in-for-2014 move following their trade for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs for top prospect Addison Russell and others in early July. Perhaps, though, Hammel's failings since the swap—he's 0-4 with a 9.53 ERA!—was the impetus behind targeting Lester.
What makes this deal questionable, however, is that Oakland would give up a player in Cespedes who is helping the team so much in its title quest this season. Cespedes' 62 runs, 17 homers and 67 RBI are a big reason why the A's have been the highest-scoring club to date.
Gomes hits from the right side, like Cespedes, but he's strictly a complementary piece who's having a down season (his .309 wOBA is below the .312 MLB average) and not the impact player Cespedes can be and has been.
The numbers certainly indicate the A's are a far better team with Cespedes in the lineup:
Plus, Lester is now ineligible to receive a qualifying offer at the end of the season now that he's been traded, which means Oakland risks having nothing to show for this deal unless they actually do win it all.
With Cespedes in tow to join David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and some of their young bats who have disappointed but still have major upside, like Xander Bogaerts, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Sox get back to bashing baseballs in 2015.
What is surprising, however, is the impressive return the Red Sox managed to get for a few short months' worth of Jon Lester.
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