Boston Red Sox left-handed ace Jon Lester was traded to the Oakland A’s on Thursday morning as Oakland general manager Billy Beane continues his all-in push for a World Series.
But to get Lester, the A’s part with All-Star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, a 28-year-old who served as the big bat in the middle of Oakland’s balanced offense. Minus Cespedes, the A’s might be required to make another move to bolster the offense.
Lester gives Oakland a nearly unrivaled one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Beane acquired ace right-hander Jeff Samardzija from the Chicago Cubs.
The trade sends Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes to the A’s. Lester is ticketed for free agency at the end of the season, as is Samardzija.
Lester, 30, is 10-7 with a 2.52 ERA, and 149 strikeouts against 32 walks in 143 innings this season. He was scratched from his scheduled start Wednesday in anticipation of a possible trade after the two sides publicly discussed calling off contract negotiations until the offseason.
“It’s part of the game,” Boston right-hander Clay Buchholz, now the ace of the staff, told NESN as he entered his charity bowling event Thursday night. “It stinks to see your friends leave, the guys that you’ve been around for a good while.”
Lester delivered a tweet on the trade: “Thanks y’all can’t tell you how much your support means to me and my family! Excited to contribute to a very talented Athletics team.”
Boston is short on starting pitching, and the 2015 projected depth chart shapes up as a mystery.
Lester was having a career year in his contract season. The St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers were known bidders. Lester said last week he would consider returning to Boston if he was traded away, but the Red Sox have not shown an interest in paying what is market value for their home-grown ace.
Lester turned down a contract worth $15 million per season in spring training.
Veteran Red Sox slugger David Ortiz lobbied for keeping Lester and bid him well in a tweet: “Wishing my man Jon Lester all the best, Red Sox Nation and the Large Father will miss you!”
The Red Sox will have Cespedes under contract through the 2015 season. In his third major league season, Cespedes is batting .256 with 17 home runs and 67 RBI, and he is a strong defensive outfielder. Plate discipline — his on-base percentage was below .300 last season — has been the biggest knock on Cespedes.
“Yoe will have a field day in Fenway Park’s left field,” Athletics owner Lew Wolff said. “But I’m very excited about this move. It releases a lot of funds for us next year and we still have a pretty good team even without Yoe, who I will miss.”
The deal with Oakland started a sell-off for the Red Sox, who traded right-handed starter Jake Peavy to the Giants last week and also traded right-handed starter John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals later Thursday. They then dealt lefty reliever Andrew Miller to the Orioles and shortstop Stephen Drew to the Yankees.
“Hopefully, we’ve turned this into moves that make us better now and give us a real head start the rest of the season and into the offseason with the full intent of building a strong, contending team in 2015,” Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said at a Thursday night media conference.
Cherington admitted he got little sleep for several days (the Cespedes/Lester deal, he said, was finalized at 3 or 4 a.m.).
“I think we’re in a better position than we were a week ago, but certainly not done,” the GM said. “We’ve got 54 games left, and these are the most important 54 games of our season. We’ve got a lot to find out.”
He said the eight wins in nine games out of the All-Star break had the team thinking of adding for a run at the postseason. Then came three consecutive losses at Toronto en route to losing eight of nine, and “the math” changed.
It was time to shake things up.
“There’s nothing sort of celebratory about this,” he said, noting the team’s 48-60 record led to the mass moves. He called the season “frustrating, disappointing, hard to explain.”
Gomes played for the A’s in the 2012 season before being signed as a free agent by the Red Sox last season. He is hitting .234 this season with six home runs and 32 RBIs.
He has also played for Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Washington in his 11-year major league career while compiling a .244 average, 155 homers and 495 RBIs.
“I’m in a situation right now where I’m getting packaged up with the best pitcher in the game, heading over to the team with the best record in the game,” Gomes told WEEI, a Boston radio station. “I’m a little bit excited there, but at the same time, you talk about a soft spot in my heart, soft spot with some of the relationships I’ve made in Boston and this chapter, for the time being, has come to an end.”