It’s common knowledge that many obituaries for certain celebrities are written while that person is still alive. They are stored away in a file until that inevitable day arrives.
I get the feeling many sportswriters in town had the framework of a “Jon Lester got traded” article stashed away and ready to go. Once Lester was scratched from his start this past Wednesday, the writing was on the wall. The only question was where and when would Lester be traded. I’m sure sportswriters were brushing up on their scouting reports of prospects like Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, and Josh Bell. They were checking up on the websites of teams like the Dodgers, Pirates, Mariners, and Cardinals to see what other prospects would net a good return for Lester. They did their due diligence brushing up on the contracts statuses of players like Matt Kemp, Cole Hamels, and Giancarlo Stanton.
I’m sure few writers (and fans) spent too much time researching the Oakland A’s, especially after they had already acquired starting pitchers Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija. Certainly no one expected Yoenis Cespedes to be involved in any deal.
Yet, on Thursday, that was the deal that went down. Cespedes (17 HR, 67 RBI, .256 avg.) was dealt to the Red Sox for Lester (10-7, 2.52 ERA). If the two month rental of Lester wasn’t enough, the Red Sox threw in outfielder Jonny Gomes (6 HR, 32 RBI, .234 avg.).
My initial reaction was shock. I wasn’t surprised that the A’s got Lester. As a matter of fact, I tweeted a day before that I wouldn’t be surprised if the A’s or Angels were dark horses to attain Lester. Both teams were leaps and bounds above the rest of the American League and a pitcher of Lester’s caliber could give either team the edge to make it to the World Series.
I was surprised when I heard Cespedes’ name as the guy coming to Boston. What?!?! I was expecting to hear of two or three Triple-A prospects that I had never heard of. The Red Sox are supposed to be sellers, but attaining Cespedes is a move buyers make. Cespedes, immediately, improves an offense that has been anemic all season. He gives the Red Sox the right-handed power bat that has been missing all season. Where was this move last December?
Another one of my initial thoughts was that the Red Sox now have two of the best outfield arms in baseball. Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Cespedes are tied in outfield assists in all of baseball with twelve apiece. GM Ben Cherington confirmed later in the day what I hoped. Cespedes will be featured in right field for the most part with Boston. That is the best way to utilize his arm instead of confining him to the claustrophobic left field in Fenway. It would be the equivalent of caging a wild animal.
Another word that first came to mind when I heard “Cespedes” was “hamstrings.” He has missed parts of 2013 and 2014 with hamstring injuries. He has also had wrist problems. He hasn’t played more than 135 games in any of his first two seasons.
Upon further review, the biggest issue is that the 28-year-old (if you want to believe him) becomes a free agent following the 2015 season, according to his Baseball Reference page. Did the Red Sox deal away the ace of their staff (as well as Gomes) for a one-year rental. The team has shown a recent reluctance to sign players to long-term, big money contracts. That is why they found themselves in this position with Lester. Cespedes will command $20 million per year– playing into his 30s. Will the Red Sox pay him?
Cherington claims he wants to keep Cespedes around for the long term. I’ll believe it when I see it. And I don’t know if I want to believe it. Cespedes is good– real good. He is a free swinger who will hit titanic home runs, but will also strike out a ton. Think of a better conditioned Mike Napoli. The first thing that will strike you when you see Cespedes are his thighs. Cespedes is listed as 5’10”, but he gets all his power from his powerful legs. That is why a history of hamstring issues is concerning.
I know what you are thinking– so do you like the trade or not, Tony? Maybe I am trying to decide as I type this. Maybe I am letting my fingers present their best cases, and I think I have reached a verdict:
No, I don’t like it. I know I am in the minority, but I would have preferred Matt Kemp. He strikes out just as much, but hits for a far better average. His upside — even at his age — is higher than Cespedes. He has already proven it. Even better, I would have preferred some younger outfield prospects like a Joc Pederson or, even, Starling Marte. At the very least, I could flip some or all of those prospects for someone like Giancarlo Stanton. I want someone the Red Sox can put in the middle of their order for the next 5-6 years.
Maybe Cespedes can be that guy. Maybe the Red Sox will spend the money to make it happen. And, who knows, maybe the Red Sox may even pony up the money and re-sign Lester in the offseason.
If Cespedes and Lester are in Red Sox uniforms in 2016, then I just may put the “genius” cap back on Cherington’s head. Until then, Cherington has a starting rotation to assemble.