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Well, it happened. Weeks of speculation finally came to fruition this morning, hours before the MLB’s 4:30pm ET trade deadline. The Red Sox shipped ace pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Johnny Gomes to Oakland. In return, Boston gets power-hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
Lester wasn’t the only pitcher on the move, as John Lackey was shipped to St. Louis for 2013 All-Star outfielder Allen Craig and right-handed pitcher Joe Kelly.
These two moves make it clear that Boston has given up on this season. Despite the notion a few weeks ago after the Sox beat up on the Blue Jays 14-1 that they could turn around and make a post-season push late in the season, a series loss to the Rays all but crushed their playoff hopes.
Lester is obviously the huge name here. His postseason numbers are staggering and he’s amidst the best regular season of his career. Oakland knows this could be their year to win the American League, which is why they traded earlier in the year for Jeff Samardzija. Lester gives them that postseason ace that could give them two quality starts every series in the playoffs.
Before Red Sox Nation throws their arms up in disgust at the front office dealing Lester, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture:
Boston isn’t making the playoffs this season. Plain and simple. Even if they did, they don’t have the firepower like last season to get them through seven games series against the likes of Oakland, Detroit, and even Baltimore. So what is Boston really giving up here? Two months of meaningless John Lester starts and one of the least productive outfielders in baseball. What are they getting back? A 28-year-old power-hitting outfielder with a rocket arm who has won the Home Run Derby the past two years.
The Red Sox are desperate for offensive production in the outfield, particularly right-handed power hitting. Cespedes brings that, hitting 17 home runs so far this season. All Red Sox outfielders have combined for 14. He isn’t a free agent until after the 2015 season, so he will be a key player in the lineup all of next season. Assuming they sign him to an extension, which I believe they should, he could become the go-to guy in the lineup once David Ortiz moves on.
The reality is that the Red Sox have low-balled Lester all season when it came to contract negotiations. Deals in the range of four years $70 million we’re a slap in the face compared to what Lester would command on the open market. From what we’ve heard, Lester would be willing to take a little less to stay in Boston, but not $50 million less. If the front office wasn’t willing to pay huge money over six years for a 30-year-old pitcher, at least they could use him as a bargaining chip to bring in some power.
Boston essentially still has just as good a chance to resign Lester at the end of the season as they did before they traded him. All they are giving up is a “quiet period” where they would have exclusive negotiating rights, and period in which Lester most likely wouldn’t have resigned anyways to see what other teams would offer him. So, is Lester returning to Boston still a possibility? Absolutely.
Lester wants to be in Boston, it’s just a matter of if Boston wants Lester back. If they do, they will offer him close to what his market value determines when he becomes a free agent. If not, it’s a “thanks for your service” goodbye and we move on. That’s the cruel and unfortunate business of professional sports.
In the end, if Boston wasn’t willing to give Lester what he deserves, this is the best possible circumstance. Yes, the starting rotation has taken a serious hit. But, they’ve addressed the main issue that has kept them out of playoff contention all season long. The best offense in baseball won them a World Series in 2013, and the front office seems to be doing everything they can to regain that organizational mindset to carry them in the future.