Thursday, July 31, 2014

What Lester-for-Cespedes Means for the Future

All too often the trade deadline comes and goes without the blockbuster deal everyone wants. 2014 is different. The Red Sox have just traded Jon Lester (10-7, 2.52 ERA) and OF Jonny Gomes to Oakland for the former Cuban dynamo Yoenis Cespedes. It's not often you see a 3x All-Star, and 2x World Series Champion traded for another All-Star, and 2x Home Run Derby Champion in his prime. We all know that these guys have great stats and credentials, but what does this deal really mean moving forward?

Well, the Athletics are clearly going for it now. After trading some of their top prospects to the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, Oakland GM Billy Beane, who some of you may know as Brad Pitt's character from "Moneyball," has just put together the best rotation in the American League. In fact, they already had the best ERA in the AL before the deal, and now they've added an ace who has always been dominant in the postseason. 

But, why would the A's give up their clean-up hitter when their team is rolling? Oakland has scored more runs than than any other team in the MLB thus far. Some may say that they can afford to lose a bit of offense for what they're gaining. Others state the old mantra, if it's not broken, don't fix it.  One thing is for sure, this deal had a lot more to do with future contracts than many are thinking. Sure, both guys have great stats, but both are also very expensive players. 

Lester, on the one hand, is in a contract year. As of today, he's a rental for the A's. If there's one thing Billy Beane has shown through his career, it's that he's not willing to pay top dollar for a free agent when he can find cheap value elsewhere. He's shown to be the ultimate trader, finding inefficiencies in the free market. Since Lester reportedly turned down a four-year, $70 million offer from Boston, it's hard to imagine Oakland shelling out a better deal to keep him in town past this season. They'll probably be in the discussion, but it's no lock. Make no mistake, this is a win-now move, and a big gamble if they can't get it done in October.

On the other side of the deal, although Cespedes is a younger player than Lester with arguably more upside, he's expensive in his own right. The Cuban slugger only has one more year on his deal after this season. Before he ever picked up a bat in the Major Leagues, Cespedes already earned over $10 million per season. So it's safe to say he'll be getting a hefty raise. Boston surely has the funds to keep him in town, but they'll have to come up with a long term deal for Cespedes, one that will cost more than an extension would have been for Lester. 

In an interesting interview with ESPN, Boston beat-writer Dan Shaughnessy expressed the Red Sox's hesitance to give a long term deal to anyone over the age of 30. After being burned by huge deals to Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett, who can blame them for thinking twice about locking up Lester? Still, while everyone sees Cespedes as a young player, he'll be 29 when his deal is up. Still, they do add a big-time power bat to an outfield that only has a combined 14 home runs this season. For the record, Cespedes already has 17 bombs.

All in all, don't expect to see many deals like this in your lifetime. It's rare that a team can give away their biggest power bat, and still come out looking like sharks, and most teams would have been satisfied receiving a high-level prospect in return for a rental starter, but the Red Sox aren't most teams. Oakland must know what they're doing though, because this isn't the first time they've been in this situation.

In 1993, Oakland sent a then 10x All-Star in Rickey Henderson to Toronto, just 3 years after his MVP season. Henderson was in the last year of his contract at the time. Then, in 1997, the A's decided to cut ties with a 32-year-old Mark McGwire immediately following a 52 home run season. Once again, you guessed it, Mark was in a contract year. In 1998 though, McGwire broke Roger Maris' home run record in one of the most exciting baseball seasons of all-time. Here's hoping, for Billy Beane's sake, that Boston didn't just get the next Mark McGwire. 

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