It was just before 3 p.m. Friday when the A’s clubhouse doors opened and in walked Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes, wearing suits and still carrying bags bearing the logo of their previous team, the Boston Red Sox. As they strode down a corridor into the main locker area, a clubhouse attendant ducked over to the sound system and changed the music – to a John Philip Sousa march.
It set a light-hearted tone for a lively scene, with A’s players exchanging handshakes and greetings with their new teammates and – in Gomes’ case – welcoming a favorite former teammate back into the fold. Sam Fuld, also acquired at Thursday’s trade deadline from the Minnesota Twins, arrived in Oakland on Friday, too – joining Lester and Gomes in going from last-place teams to an A’s club with the majors’ best record.
“Obviously, leaving Boston after being there for so long was difficult,” said Lester, who spent his first eight-plus seasons with the Red Sox. “But going from a team that hasn’t done so well this year, to a team that has the best record in baseball is pretty exciting.”
Lester, who will wear No. 31, is set to make his A’s debut today against the Kansas City Royals. He said one of the first things he learned upon arriving in the Bay Area was that the A’s planned to give out Yoenis Cespedes T-shirts at the game – and still do, despite the fact Cespedes was traded to Boston for Lester and Gomes.
“Kind of ironic,” Lester said with a smile.
The high-profile trade gives the A’s a formidable rotation of Lester, Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel that manager Bob Melvin termed “as good as I’ve ever had.” More than 24 hours after the trade deadline, Melvin said Friday the move had been “a lot to digest.”
“Everybody was close to Ces here, and he’s had an unbelievable impact on what we’ve done here the last two-plus years, and we wish him the best and thank him,” Melvin said. “But to bring in the guys we brought in, you have to trade something very significant, and that’s what it took.”
Lester, who was 10-7 with a 2.52 ERA this season for Boston, said he doesn’t feel extra pressure to perform joining a team with playoff aspirations and that some pundits are now calling an October frontrunner. The tall, soft-spoken left-hander said he hopes to “fill my spot and do my job, fill some innings and give these guys a chance to swing the bats.”
While Lester was adjusting to new surroundings, Gomes was getting reacquainted with familiar ones, having been a key member of the 2012 A’s team that won the American League West and made the playoffs for the first time in six years. Gomes was a clubhouse authority figure on that team – Melvin said that getting Gomes back made losing Cespedes “a little more palatable” – and Gomes said he kept tabs on the A’s after he left.
“I put a lot of work into the young guys, physically, mentally,” Gomes said. Seeing the A’s send six players to the All-Star Game this year, Gomes said, made him feel “like a proud father watching these guys take off.”
Though perhaps quieter, Fuld’s arrival Friday was also a return, as the outfielder spent spring training with the A’s and played seven games in Oakland in April. Fuld said that he’d left “on great terms” when the A’s designated him for assignment – but he didn’t think he’d be back so soon.
“It makes it a lot easier,” Fuld said. “I walked in today and felt pretty darn comfortable right away.”
Fuld led off for the A’s Friday night, hitting a double in the fourth inning. He fills an immediate need in center field, where Craig Gentry (hand) and Coco Crisp (neck) are battling injuries. Gomes will form the right-handed half of a platoon in left field, splitting at-bats with Stephen Vogt.
The addition of Lester, meanwhile, results in Jesse Chavez moving from the rotation to the bullpen, where Chavez pitched last season in long relief.
Hammel, who remains the fifth starter, has lost his first four starts with the A’s with a 9.53 ERA. He had a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts for the Chicago Cubs before arriving in July in a trade, and Melvin said Hammel’s “track record suggests we need to be a little more patient with him.”
Chavez, who went 8-7 with a 3.44 ERA after being pressed into a starting role following injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, handled his return to the bullpen well.
“I’m not mad about it,” he said. “You can’t go down there with a bad attitude, because a bad attitude brings bad performance. It’d be wrong for the team.”