Despite having the best record in the majors, the Oakland A’s opted not to stand pat at the non-waiver trade deadline, making one of Thursday’s biggest splashes by sending slugger Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for prized starting pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes, and also shipping pitcher Tommy Milone to Minnesota for versatile outfielder Sam Fuld.
The A’s also sent their 2015 competitive balance draft pick to the Red Sox, who included cash considerations in return. With the move, the A’s parted ways with one of baseball’s most exciting players and a mainstay in the heart of their lineup, but acquired another front-of-the-rotation starter to bolster a starting staff that now looks to be among the strongest in the majors.
Lester, the 30-year-old left-hander from Tacoma, Wash., was 10-7 for the last-place Red Sox this season but with a 2.52 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 143 innings. He has a strong track record, owning the second-best career winning percentage among active American League pitchers (.636), and is a three-time All-Star.
The addition of Lester gives the A’s a formidable starting rotation that also includes Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija and likely either Jason Hammel or Jesse Chavez. Hammel has struggled since joining the A’s in a trade that also brought Samardzija from the Chicago Cubs, losing each of his first four starts with a 9.53 ERA, while Chavez has cooled the past month -- a 5.20 ERA in July -- and has experience in long relief.
It comes at the expense, however, of one of the A’s most imposing middle-of-the-order hitters. The A’s were 228-131 with Cespedes in the starting lineup since he arrived with Oakland in 2002, and Cespedes gained national notoriety for his power -- he’s won the Home Run Derby the past two years -- and rocket arm -- he has 12 outfield assists this year and one throw home in Anaheim in June was a mainstay on highlight reels.
After a tantalizing rookie season in which Cespedes hit .292 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs in 2012, though, the Cuban defector batted .240 last season and was hitting .256 this year with 17 homers and 67 RBIs in his first 101 games. The 28-year-old was in the third year of a four-year contract through 2015, at which point he would become a free agent.
A guest on the MLB Network Radio channel on Sirius XM earlier today, A’s outfielder Josh Reddick said he was as stunned as anybody by the deal. "I definitely wasn’t expecting it just like the rest of this world wasn’t expecting it," Reddick told the station. "It’s a huge deal for both teams and it just really shows that (A’s general manager Billy Beane) is all in for this whole thing."
Beane had already indicated a focus on 2014 with the trade for Samardzija and Hammel earlier in July, in which the A’s sent two former first-round draft picks (Addison Russell and Billy McKinney) and pitcher Dan Straily to the Cubs. The A’s have finished first in the A.L. West each of the past two seasons but have not escaped the A.L. Division Series, losing to the Detroit Tigers -- and their vaunted pitching staff -- in five games both years.
Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler was quoted by the Detroit Free Press today as saying the A’s trading Cespedes for Lester -- who can become a free agent after this season and reportedly recently said he would not rule out returning to Boston next season even if he were traded -- is "a little unusual."
"It’s a little unusual to get rid of a guy like Cespedes, who’s in the middle of your order and makes it tough on opposing pitchers," Kinsler told the Free Press. "You can have all the pitching in the world, but you’ve got to score runs."
Reddick told MLB Network Radio that, "Never in my wildest (dreams) did I think we were going to give up Yoenis," and that, "It’s going to take some big shoes to fill" the spot Cespedes leaves in the lineup. "Fortunately for us we have guys like Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss who are out there with him driving in I think 70 (runs) at this point so far this year. So that’s always good to have in your back pocket," Reddick said.
For Gomes, the trade marks a return of sorts, as the 33-year-old Petaluma native played for the A’s in 2012, when he was a key locker room figure on the A’s first playoff team in six years. Gomes was batting .234 this season with Boston, with six home runs and 32 RBIs in 78 games.
Following the departure of Cespedes, Gomes likely slots into left field, where the A’s can also use Stephen Vogt or Brandon Moss. Fuld can also play all three outfield spots, but in the short term would appear to be bound for center field with Craig Gentry on the DL and Coco Crisp battling a neck injury.
Fuld was with the A’s during spring training and played seven games in Oakland earlier this year but made an impression on teammates and manager Bob Melvin with his hustle and defense. Milone, the 27-year-old left-hander, had recently asked to be traded while stuck at Triple-A Sacramento due to the A’s pitching depth. He was 6-3 with a 3.55 ERA in 16 starts for the A’s this season.
Lester, Gomes and Fuld are all expected to be in Oakland on Friday, when the A’s return home to begin a series against the Kansas City Royals. The San Francisco Chronicle was reporting that Lester will make his A’s debut on Saturday against the Royals.
The A’s optioned outfielder Billy Burns to Triple-A Sacramento and designated infielder Jake Elmore for assignment to clear spots on the 25-man and 40-man roster, respectively, for the new players. They still have to make one more 25-man roster move.