As he loaded the contents of his locker into boxes Wednesday afternoon, right fielder Josh Reddick described the 2014 A’s as a team that “was built to go farther than we did,” and said of their 12-inning, 9-8 loss to the Kansas City Royals in the wild-card game the night before: “It still stinks.”
But Reddick did point out one silver lining: “I’m glad I get to hit the road and not have to worry about hearing about the Lester-Cespedes trade anymore,” Reddick said. “So many people were pointing fingers at that, that I was getting tired of hearing it.”
The A’s were 25 games over .500 and in first place in the American League West when they made the deadline deal sending Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox for left-hander Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes. They went 22-39 to finish the regular season, and the trade became a lighting rod for theories about the A’s second-half struggles, focusing primarily on the effect losing Cespedes may have had on the lineup and clubhouse chemistry.
Wednesday, though, A’s general manager Billy Beane indicated he had no regrets about making the deal.
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“Simply put, if we don’t have Jon Lester I don’t think we make the playoffs,” Beane said. “We made it on the last day (of the regular season), and if we don’t have that exchange, I don’t think we make the playoffs.”
That the A’s season ended in the wild-card round despite their having Lester to start that game – the kind of marquee situation for which the left-hander was acquired – does not affect Beane’s evaluation of the trade, he said. Lester went 6-4 with a 2.35 ERA in 11 regular-season starts for the A’s. He allowed six runs against the Royals on Tuesday, the most he has ever allowed in a playoff start, before departing in the eighth with a lead.
“If we didn’t have Lester, we wouldn’t have had that game yesterday,” Beane said. “Jon put us in a position to win the game, which is what his job was.
“You can debate it all you want. I truly don’t believe we make the playoffs (without the trade). I don’t think we gain 11 games by extracting Lester and adding the ‘chemistry.’ ”
Beane said both the Lester deal and the earlier trade for starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were prompted by concerns the A’s could be heading for a dropoff in the second half. The team’s torrid start had helped mask the loss of starters Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin to Tommy John surgery during spring training – which forced others like Jesse Chavez into unfamiliar roles.
The A’s in July also were experiencing injuries to key players such as Reddick and Coco Crisp that foreshadowed their later issues with health. Manager Bob Melvin revealed Wednesday that had the A’s moved on to the A.L. Division Series, they would have been without Crisp (hamstring) and catcher Geovany Soto (thumb), who were both injured in the wild-card game.
“Once it started getting to the middle of the season, there’s always this sort of sense that we need to make sure it didn’t collapse on us, which is one of the reasons that we were so aggressive,” Beane said.
Another reason, Beane said, was knowing that the A’s will likely have a good amount of roster turnover this offseason. A handful of key players will be free agents – among them shortstop Jed Lowrie, infielder Alberto Callaspo, set-up man Luke Gregerson, Hammel and Lester, who is widely expected to garner a contract outside the A’s price range.
Beane said it was too soon to begin parsing those individual cases, but that the A’s still have “a lot of good pieces” returning for 2015. A core including Crisp, Josh Donaldson, Reddick and closer Sean Doolittle remains under team control for next year, as do rotation members Sonny Gray, Samardzija and Scott Kazmir. Timelines for Parker and Griffin are tentative, but they could rejoin the rotation midway through next season.
“We don’t have a huge core here, and there’s a lot of turnover from year to year,” Melvin said. “But we still have a group of guys here that expect to win.”
Asked if he agreed the A’s wouldn’t have made the playoffs without the trades they made to bolster their rotation, Melvin said, “I can’t predict stuff like that, but I certainly couldn’t argue that. The trades we made for the pitching were key in where we went.”
As for changing the makeup of the clubhouse, Lowrie said: “As much as people don’t think it’s a big deal there’s something to chemistry and to having an identity as a team, as an offense.” Lowrie said he felt the A’s did regain that identity in the final weeks, “and I think that was on display (Tuesday). It’s too bad that it got cut short, because I think we were starting to click.”
Tuesday’s extra-innings thriller, Lowrie said, was “probably the best game I’ve ever been involved with.” That it ended in heartbreak for the A’s, he said, should not automatically define the success of their season – or the moves along the way.
“It’s hard to put that much on one game,” Lowrie said. “It didn’t work out in our favor. But I think it would be unfair to blame that trade.”