Well, that’s one way to assure some measure of public approval in moving one of the most popular players in franchise history.
When Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports teased Thursday morning that he was hearing Jon Lester was headed to a “West Coast team,” the immediate reaction was grim to say the least. What exactly did the Oakland A’s have to offer after emptying their farm system earlier this month in the deal that brought them both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs in exchange for 2012 first-round pick Addison Russell and 2013 first-rounder Billy McKinney? The Red Sox were insistent on getting premium prospects in return for their ace lefty, something it seemed difficult for Billy Beane to provide.
As for major league talent, well, now we’re talking.
In Yoenis Cespedes, the Red Sox are getting a human highlight reel in the outfield, where the left fielder boasts the best arm in all of baseball. But most importantly, the 28-year-old brings the power hitter that the Red Sox’ system desperately needs. Cespedes has 17 home runs this season for the AL West-leading A’s, a season after hitting 26 in Oakland. His career batting average is only .262, which might bring some on the downside of this trade, but with power becoming more of a rarity in baseball these days, Cespedes is one of the game’s most feared home run hitters. He’s not Manny Ramirez; probably closer to Dave Kingman, but not exactly Rob Deer. The Red Sox needed a guy like this in the worst way, even if it meant at the expense of Lester and Jonny Gomes.
He probably shouldn’t be here too long, either.
Yes, I know, must everything come back to the guy in Miami? Can we just enjoy watching Cespedes before we have to start dreaming up bigger fantasies with which to take up our time? Well, sure. But we’re going to lay it out there anyway.
Cespedes is signed through next season at $10.5 million, after which he will become a free agent. Meanwhile, Giancarlo Stanton is eligible for arbitration next year, and he’s due to make a lot more than the $6.5 million the powerful outfielder (24 home runs, .935 OPS this season) makes now. Naturally, when the Marlins are listening to offers for their centerpiece during the offseason – and they will listen, they’re going to need to ask for some power in return for the bat they’re sending off to big boy baseball.
Miami had expressed some interest in Will Middlebrooks in the past, but the third baseman continues to flounder in Triple-A Pawtucket, showing only occasional streaks of impressive strength. Enter Cespedes to include in a deal that also might feature the likes of Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts along with pitching prospects that might include Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster, and Henry Owens. Without a guy like Cespedes, that’s a pretty sketchy offering. Add him into the mix, and you might as well start printing up the No. 27 shirtseys.
Of course, Miami’s interest in Cespedes is also notable. The Marlins tried to sign the Cuban defector in 2012, offering him the same amount as the A’s, but over a six-year period instead of four.
“It would be good [to play here],” Cespedes said. “There are a lot of Cubans and they would support me a lot. Hopefully I can play for the Marlins.”
But the A’s package was just that much better that Cespedes couldn’t refuse, even as the Marlins were tossing money every which way so they could show off their new monstrosity of a ballpark with some level of high-priced talent.
“We showed ourselves off pretty well with the ballpark,” Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. “There are a lot of things to sell in the community and with this organization. I think we felt good about that, but ultimately you never know really what’s going on in a free situation. You do the best you can and go from there. We feel good about things in the way we portrayed ourselves and what we could offer.”
Well, here is the Marlins’ second chance.
If Lester and Gomes for Cespedes is generally seen as a win for Boston general manager Ben Cherington, imagine what Lester and Gomes turning into Stanton would be.
Or what if the Red Sox find a way to win the Lester free agent sweepstakes in the winter? Then the trade will read Jonny Gomes for either Cespedes or Stanton, two of the most talented power hitters in the game.
OK, we’re getting ahead of ourselves there, mostly because Lester will most likely be pitching in the Bronx come April, a reality that will smack with a cold-hearted strangeness, much the same way it felt the first time Roger Clemens strode to the Fenway mound in a Blue Jays uniform. It never should have happened, but the Red Sox allowed the entire thing to get out of hand, undervaluing Lester’s durability and ability to give them 200 innings each season as easily as if he were brushing his teeth. They have faith in the kids – Webster, Ruby De La Rosa, Ranaudo, Owens, Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman – and that’s fine. But once John Lackey is dealt – perhaps as soon as you read this – Clay Buchholz will be the veteran leader on a pitching staff that helped win the World Series only nine months ago.
That is frightening, but reality.
Cherington and Larry Lucchino are gutting the Red Sox, for what reason nobody is entirely sure. But Cespedes is a first step in the right direction.
Pointed directly at Miami.