Never let it be said that Billy Beane can’t make a splash.
This morning, Beane traded fan-favorite and national star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox along with the A’s second-round competitive-balance pick in return for ace Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes. This is the second big deal Oakland has made in advance of this year’s deadline — the first being the July 5th deal that sent elite shortstop prospect Addison Russell, swingman Dan Straily, minor-leaguer Billy McKinney and a player to be named later to Chicago for starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel — and both were made with one goal in mind: winning the 2014 World Series.
Lester, 30, will be a free agent after this season. That was going to be the case even if he stayed in Boston (the Red Sox lowballed him at four years, $70 million when trying to get him to agree to an extension, and he’ll likely earn twice that on the open market). And Oakland’s chances to re-sign him this offseason will likely be as low as their interest in sinking more than a hundred million dollars into any one contract. He is explicitly on the A’s for two reasons: winning the AL West, and then winning the World Series. Oakland can’t even hit him with the qualifying offer on the way out the door this winter and recoup a draft pick — Lester is a pure mercenary, and any value he adds is going to be whatever he does over the next three months.
Gomes, 33, is back for his second stint in Oakland — he was a member of their 2012 club — and will become the new platoon left fielder, with Stephen Vogt likely filling out the other half of that duo. Gomes is a career .875 OPS hitter against lefties (.831 OPS this year) and Vogt has a .919 OPS against righties this season (.750 OPS for his career, which is 335 PA total). The team could make another move before the waiver deadline if necessary to address the other half of the platoon if Vogt stumbles — Chris Coghlan of Chicago and Chris Dickerson of Cleveland could make sense — but assuming current production holds from both men, the new left field unit in Oakland is actually more productive at the plate than the guy they let go.
That brings us to Cespedes, 28, Internet sensation, two-time Home Run Derby winner and merely above-average left fielder. Despite having amazing power — better BP than game power, but great power either way — the Cuban outfielder has struggled to improve pitch recognition since coming to MLB, and has been a .247/.258/.452 hitter over the last season and a half. One expects his production to increase in Fenway Park — at the very least he should be banging singles and doubles off the Green Monster in no time — but as nifty a player as Cespedes is, you can make a strong argument that he was worth parting with in order to facilitate an upgrade in the rotation and perhaps an upgrade in left as well.
The Red Sox aren’t getting some young guy cost-controlled for the next five years, either: Cespedes makes $10.5 million next season, which is a bit below market value for his production but not remarkably so, and then … he’s a free agent. The terms of the contract Cespedes signed upon entering the league stipulate that, after the final season of his entry deal, he must be non-tendered — that is to say, not offered a contract of any sort, and allowed to pursue free agency. This means no arbitration, no qualifying offer, nothing. The Red Sox have Cespedes for 2015 and then he’s free to seek his fortunes elsewhere.
The good news for the Red Sox is 2015 could be, in fact, a contention year for them — all years are contention years for a team with Boston’s payroll and farm system, absent a very good reason why not. Without draft-pick compensation attached to him, there’s absolutely nothing stopping the Red Sox from going out and paying market price for Lester this offseason, too (but any suggestions that Lester and the Sox have a handshake deal to bring him back to Boston on a sweetheart contract should be treated like the homer fan board nonsense that it is, especially given Boston’s earlier lowballing). And, of course, they may still not be done clearing the decks, now that they’ve traded John Lackey to the Cardinals for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly.
In the end, the Lester deal is a win for both sides. Oakland continues to make its roster as competitive as possible for 2014 (the A’s next move was to deal discontented depth starter Tommy Milone to Minnesota for bench outfielder Sam Fuld, no doubt insurance in case Coco Crisp has to miss any more time with neck issues), and Boston addresses an outfield need for 2015 without giving up anything they weren’t going to lose anyway.