It was clear for at least a week now that the Boston Red Sox were going to have to trade Jon Lester before this afternoon's trade deadline. The only question was where he would end up. We finally got our answer and the team that won the Lester sweepstakes came as a surprise to most of us – the Oakland A's.
Boston has traded their ace pitcher, along with outfielder Jonny Gomes, to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes. Boston will also receive a competitive balance draft pick from the A's, which is estimated to be around the 70th pick in next year's draft.
Lester gives the A's a proven ace to lead them into the playoffs. Oakland now has arguably the deepest rotation in the league and can now be considered the favorites to win the pennant. Gomes gives them a solid platoon option or a bat off the bench who can crush left-handed pitching.
In Cespedes, the Red Sox are getting an All-Star outfielder with a power bat and a cannon for an arm. The two-time Home Run Derby champ has hit 66 home runs in his two and a half seasons in Oakland, including 17 this season. He's currently hitting .256/.303/.464 this season, but those numbers could potentially improve now that he's moving to a more hitter friendly park. He's also an excellent defensive outfielder, with 12 outfield assists that ties him with Jackie Bradley, Jr. for the most in the majors. Along with Shane Victorino in right field, Boston should have one of the best defensive outfields in the game.
Cespedes is in the third year of a four year deal, leaving him under contract next season for $10.5 million. Due to a clause in his contract, he's eligible for free agency after next year, despite having only four years of service time. He also can't be tendered a qualifying offer, which means the Red Sox won't receive a compensation draft pick if he leaves. That gave Oakland more incentive to deal him now since they likely won't be able to afford to keep him, but Boston can. Expect them to try to work out an extension this off-season after giving themselves the rest of this year to get a closer look at him and see how he fits in with this team.
Losing Lester hurts, but Cespedes is a great return. Boston has a lot of great young prospects in their system, but a power hitting bat isn't one of their strengths. He's only 28-years old, in the prime of his career and fills a big need. Trading for Cespedes helps Boston contend next season rather than having to wait for prospects to develop.
Of course there is still a chance that Lester could return next year as a free agent. Lester recently said himself that he'd understand if the team traded him and would still consider signing here after the season. One of the benefits of trading him to a place like Oakland is it's unlikely the A's will be able to afford to lock him up to an extension. If Boston traded him to a place like the Dodgers who could afford a massive long term deal, they'd have a chance to negotiate with him and potentially lock him up without ever giving other teams a shot at him. This essentially assures that Lester will enter free agency, putting Boston on an even playing field with other suitors.
If Lester isn't destined to return to Boston next year then he'll surely be missed by Red Sox nation, but the Red Sox were in a position where they had to get something for him now to avoid potentially losing him for nothing this off-season and they managed to get great value for him. They traded away one All-Star, but got another one back in return.
But the day's not over yet and the Red Sox will still have more moves to make. Stay tuned.
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