The blockbuster trade that sent shock waves through Major League Baseball Thursday morning — Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes — really, is too early to be judged from the perspective of the Oakland A’s. There are so many considerations that need to be taken into account from the A’s side of things.
For the Red Sox? Sure, it’s easy. They weren’t going anywhere this season and they made a move to help their offense next season. Let’s face it, Yoenis Cespedes should certainly do that for the Red Sox in 2015, and he’ll have the rest of 2014 as a warm-up on how to play the angles and maximize his performance at Fenway Park.
By the way, I think for Cespedes, this is exactly the move that he needed to kick his career to a higher level. Yes he was a star in the spacious confines of the O.co Coliseum, an All Star even, but he could be downright deadly in the smaller dimensions of Fenway Park with the Green Monster there to aid his extra-base hit production. For any home run that the monster takes away from him by knocking down a line drive that otherwise would have carried out of other stadiums, it will give him an extra double on the stat sheet.
The Red Sox also got the A’s 2015 competitive balance draft pick. Not exactly just a throw in, but there’s no way for us to evaluate the true value of that pick for several years, so let’s leave it alone. The player selected could wind up being a Hall of Famer, or could be a total bust. There’s just no way of knowing.
Giving up Lester and Gomes to get Cespedes hardly hurts Boston’s goal of fielding a competitive team in 2015. Gomes, a free agent following this season, has not been much of a factor for Boston this season, leading to questions of whether they would have had interest resigning him or not anyway. Lester, also a free agent after this season, expressed his willingness to return to the Red Sox in the offseason even if he were traded.
With that in mind, he could have helped his own cause by being traded to improving the offense that will support him in 2015. Of course, he could also sign with another team. Had Boston retained him, offered him a qualifying offer, and still watched him sign elsewhere, they would have picked up a draft pick for him, but nothing more. Again, no telling how that works out for several seasons in that scenario.
By shipping him, they got an All Star outfielder with a ton of power that loves to play in the spotlight. That’s a much safer gamble than letting him pitch the remainder of a lost season and taking their chances in negotiations. Now they have a power hitting All Star to boast in left field to help sway him back to Fenway for 2015 and beyond.
That’s the Boston side of the argument.
The A’s side of the argument is trickier. Fans are split on the trade, probably with the greater percentage upset that we gave up a slugger that was under team control for next season as well.
As Susan Slusser of The San Francisco Chronicle has reported, the plan all along for the A’s was to trade Cespedes this offseason anyway. It was unlikely Oakland could resign Cespedes to an extension, and his contract allowed for him to become a free agent without any draft pick compensation tied to him next offseason. That last part hurts his trade value if Beane had held onto him into the offseason or next year. Looking at the trade from that perspective, it makes sense that getting Lester and Gomes for a pennant race, with their set of intangibles and World Series experience, makes a lot of sense.
Oakland already had a league best offense and a run differential that was off the charts. Yes Cespedes is a major part of that offense. Even if his numbers don’t suggest it, he plays a larger roll than his stats suggest because of the threat his presence poses for opposing pitchers. It results in better pitches for Josh Donaldson, better pitches for Brandon Moss, better pitches for any player batting around him.
Still, removing him from the lineup and inserting Sam Fuld and Jonny Gomes in a platoon roll will not cause the run differential to suddenly come crashing back down. Gomes can run into a fastball from a lefty and provide some of that lost power, and Stephen Vogt or Fuld will do their part against righties in left field, get on base and let the A’s bigger bats keep doing their thing.
Meanwhile, you add one of the best left handed pitchers in all baseball in Jon Lester, a pitcher with two World Series rings and a 3-0 record and 0.43 ERA in the World Series, to boast on his resume. Lester is the ace that you pitch in any game one, in any decisive game, and feel confident that he will rise to the occasion.
You now have a rotation of Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir to boast in the playoffs.
Assuming that the A’s will run into the Detroit Tigers and their rotation of David Price, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez again, there are now four pitchers that can go toe-to-toe with any of Detroit’s aces.
Looking at those match-ups and you instantly jump to the conclusion that you will have low scoring games and offense will count. Yes the A’s just traded away some offense and yes that’s a cause for concern.
The way this needs to be looked at though, is that the pitchers on the Tigers, the pitchers on the Angels, the pitchers on the Orioles, will not be making very many mistakes, allowing a player such as Cespedes to jump on a mistake and punch the ball over the fence. Yes, it can happen, but it can’t be counted on.
Instead, you need players that can get on base, something Fuld and Gomes can do. You need those players, along with the current A’s roster, to get on base for the RBI guys such as Donaldson and Moss, but more importantly you need a balanced attack. The A’s have that, perhaps now more than before.
They lost a deep threat, the possibility for an immediate impact, but they gained consistency that was one of the few flaws of Cespedes’ production. Face it, for as talented as he is, and he is, he is also a streaky player that went through a 25-game home run drought not all that long ago. Any stretch like that in the post season and you are in far better shape with the production you can count on from Jon Lester every third or fourth day on the mound, and the production and intangibles of guys like Sam Fuld and Jonny Gomes.
The hardest part to swallow of this trade is that at the end of the season Lester will be gone, Gomes may or may not be gone (but we could have signed him as a free agent anyway) and Cespedes is also still gone. Had we traded him for a package of prospects in the offseason, at least we would have had some players under club control for the next several years to learn to love. Instead, we are left with a few holes in the roster.
Jason Hammel and Lester’s spots in the rotation will be filled next season by the returning Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, so that lessens that impact to a degree, but what of Cespedes then?
Reserve your judgement until Billy spends the $10.5 million that would have been spent on Cespedes, because face it, by trading for two to-be free agents, he took $10.5 million off the books for 2015 that can be spent this offseason. Some of that could be earmarked for the raise that Samardzija will get through arbitration, but it could also be a nice starting point towards signing or trading for another slugger to fill his spot in the lineup (probably with a few extra million added on).
That’s looking too far ahead though. What this comes down to is winning this season. It comes down to outlasting the Angels for the American League West. With the A’s four aces and Jason Hammel or Jesse Chavez to hold down the fifth spot in the rotation, they should be able to stave off a late surge by the Angels.
This was about getting past the first round of the playoffs in the five-game series. Again, with four pitchers you could feel comfortable winning with on any given day, you have to like your chances now against any opponent.
This was about the seven-game series that would come in the American League Championship series and a likely showdown with the Detroit Tigers. The rotations stack up, the A’s have the edge with the bullpen, and although Detroit has Miguel Cabrera, the A’s have the more balanced attack. The odds are in the A’s favors that they should get to four wins quickest.
This was about the World Series and the ability to shutdown the lineups of any team the National League throws at them.
This was about getting that elusive ring since Beane took over the General Manager’s position.
It was also about maintaining the flexibility to make moves to field a competitive team again in 2015. The A’s took care of this part, if the parts they traded for hold up their ends of the bargain, they are in the best position they could be in to take care of the goals of winning the division, ALDS, ALCS and ultimately the World Series.
When the final pitch of the season has been thrown and the A’s are either celebrating in a shower of champagne, or quietly packing up their lockers to the tune of “next year,” then get back to me and I will have a more solid take on this trade. Maybe not a definitive stance, since there is still 2015 to consider, but I think all around the A’s fan base there will be a firmer sense of this was the right move to make, or a gamble gone wrong.
For now though, as unpopular as it might be, and it certainly is to many, this was the right move to put Oakland in the best position to add their fifth World Series title since moving the team to Oakland in 1968.