By Andrew Perna
Shortly after trading Jon Lester to the Oakland Athletics for Yoenis Cespedes, the Boston Red Sox sent another member of their 2013 World Series starting rotation packing.
Boston dealt Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. Lackey is the second starter the defending National League champions have acquired this week. They landed Justin Masterson in a trade with the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday.
Lackey, who will turn 36 in October, has pitched well for the second-straight season coming off Tommy John surgery. He had a 3.60 ERA, 1.231 WHIP and 116 strikeouts (32 walks) in 137.1 innings for the Red Sox.
If you rank them by WAR, Lackey becomes the third-best starter in the Cardinals’ rotation. He contributed 1.6 WAR to the Red Sox, while Adam Wainwright (4.8) and Lance Lynn (1.7) have done more for St. Louis to this point. If Michael Wacha returns healthy in September as expected, the Cardinals will feature a strong playoff rotation with a nice mix of veterans, stars at their peak and youngsters.
St. Louis is in a race with the Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates for the NL Central crown. Of those three teams, the Cardinals did the most to boost their chances ahead of Thursday’s deadline.
In addition to Lackey, the Cardinals also acquired minor league left-hander Corey Littrell and cash from the Red Sox.
Lackey is owed a little more than $5 million over the remainder of the season, but could pitch for peanuts in 2015. There is an option in his deal at just $500,000 and he reportedly told the Cardinals that he intends to honor it. That means St. Louis will pay the right-hander less than $6 million (not taking cash received into account) for roughly 40 starts. That’s a bargain in today’s economic landscape.
Grade for St. Louis: B+
The Cardinals won’t pay Lackey much, but they did trade two Major League-tested players for him. Craig has struggled, but many believe his issues are mechanical and can be rectified with work. He is owed more than $26 million through the 2017 season and if he returns to usual form -- .306/.358/.492 in 1,420 plate appearances -- would be a nice piece for what has become a revamped Boston roster.
Craig spends some time in the outfield, which is a position of organizational strength for the Cardinals. Even after trading James Ramsey to the Cleveland Indians in the Masterson deal, they have a few impressive outfield prospects in the pipeline. This trade could mean Oscar Taveras becomes the team’s everyday right fielder. Perhaps in a harbinger of things to come, Taveras homered against the San Diego Padres just hours after the deal.
Kelly is under team control through the 2018 season and despite a disappointing effort in 2014, he provides an intriguing option in the rotation. At 26 and with just 38 Major League starts under his belt, he is still finding his way on the mound. His 4.37 ERA, 1.457 WHIP and 2.50 K/BB ratio this year aren’t very reassuring, but Ben Cherington is banking on that being an aberration.
Grade for Red Sox: B-
At current face value, Craig and Kelly don’t seem like much of a return, but they provide long-term value for the Red Sox. That is especially the case if they are able cure what has ailed the duo this season. Lackey would have been an incredibly cheap and effective starter in 2015, but instead they are able to plug two holes.
Craig, who can also play first base and seems like a perfect replacement for David Ortiz at DH if he ever retires or moves on, will provide an offensive jolt to an outfield that also added Cespedes on Thursday. The combination of Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Cespedes can help mask any defensive shortcomings Craig has in the Fenway Park outfield.
Amid a disappointing season, the Red Sox are attempting to quickly retool for 2015. In a matter of hours they turned Lester and Lackey, who have one combined season left on their contracts, into three Major Leaguers under team control for a combined eight seasons.
Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Official Trade
By Andrew Perna
Big names are whispered each July as Major League Baseball’s trade deadline nears, but more often than not July 31 comes and goes without significant movement. On Thursday, Billy Beane and Ben Cherington made sure this year’s deadline didn’t pass without a blockbuster.
Emerging late as a potential mystery team in the race to acquire Jon Lester, the Oakland Athletics landed the left-hander along with Jonny Gomes and cash from the Boston Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes and a competitive balance pick in 2015.
Rapid reaction has labeled the trade as a win-win and while it very well might be, we’ll only have to wait a few months to see how it all plays out.
Lester immediately upgrades a dangerous Oakland rotation, which will now feature Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir and Lester in the postseason. The Athletics were already considered one of the favorites to win the World Series and adding Lester only increases those odds.
The 30-year-old, who will be a free agent after the season, won a pair of World Series with the Red Sox and has a 0.43 ERA, 0.762 WHIP and 18 strikeouts in three Fall Classic starts (21 innings). If there is one thing the top of Oakland’s rotation lacked it was extensive playoff experience, but that problem has been solved.
Lester is also enjoying the best season of his career at the perfect time. He has a 2.52 ERA, 1.119 WHIP and 149 strikeouts in 143 innings, but his brilliance has been wasted on a Boston team that has regressed since surging to a championship nine months ago. His dominance on the mound not only allowed Cherington to swing for the fences in a trade, but it also increases his price tag as a free agent this winter.
For Lester, the trade boosts his market value. He will no longer be tied to draft pick compensation, which may have turned some teams away from pursuing him.
In addition to Lester, the Athletics also acquired Gomes, who enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2012 with Oakland. The outfielder has struggled this season -- .234/.329/.354 in 246 plate appearances -- but at the very least he’ll be comfortable in the clubhouse and be undeterred by a deep postseason run. He’s only a .143/.236/.245 hitter in 55 playoff plate appearances, but was still a symbol of Boston’s success last fall.
Grade for Oakland: A-
Beane is shooting for a ring this year; despite a history of claiming the postseason is a crapshoot. He thought the deal with the Chicago Cubs that brought over Samardzija and Jason Hammel would push the Athletics over the edge, but Hammel has been terrible. He has a 9.53 ERA and 2.118 WHIP in four starts with Oakland (17 innings).
Oakland had to part with two valuable pieces, a power hitting outfielder that will likely be the best hitter moved ahead of the deadline and a competitive balance draft pick, for a rental player but that also minimizes risk. Lester seems unlikely to re-sign with the Athletics, which means they’ve shed Cespedes’ $10.5 million salary for next season. Gomes will also be a free agent this winter.
Trading Cespedes costs Beane a huge potential trade chip next summer and creates a void in the outfield. The Athletics were in position to sacrifice some offense though as they lead baseball in runs scored and rank fifth in OPS (.733).
Cespedes is lauded for his power, but his slash line (.256/.303/.464) isn’t nearly as good as you might imagine. As a group, Oakland’s outfielders have hit .268/.340/.440 this season. The void in left field will likely be filled by committee. Gomes will team with Sam Fuld, who is in the mix after a trade with the Minnesota Twins (for Tommy Millone) in the wake of this deal.
The Red Sox were reportedly looking for a nice package for Lester and ultimately pulled the trigger on a deal that didn’t include any top-level prospects. Instead, Cherington adds Cespedes to an outfield that has produced very poorly and a draft pick which should be around No. 70 next June. Instead of relying on a prospect that has been pumped and seasoned by Oakland, Boston will have the chance to evaluate and select who they want their next prized prospect to be.
Grade for Boston: B
The Red Sox will ultimately be graded on how the next ten months progress. Lester made it clear prior to the trade that he understood the business end and wouldn’t rule out re-signing with Boston when he’s free to in a few months. If the Red Sox end up re-acquiring Lester, after landing Cespedes for a year-plus and a high pick, they deserve an A+.
It may seem like that would be at the expense of the Athletics, but that’s the case. Beane got what he wanted in a rental pitcher at the top of his game for the final three months of the season without parting with an actual prospect.
Even if Lester signs elsewhere (see: New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers), the Red Sox still benefit from the deal. They badly needed a boost offensively in the outfield and if Cespedes continues to hit only for power, he’s under contract only through the end of next season. You shouldn’t rule out Boston shopping Cespedes next summer either, adding to the potential windfall that originated with this deal. A new long-term deal isn’t out of the question either, something the A’s couldn’t have afforded.
The draft pick is a more significant piece than even Cespedes, who has won the past two Home Run Derbies with tremendous displays of power, but patience will have to be employed. It's also worth nothing that if Boston had held onto Lester and he signed elsewhere this winter, they would have received a high pick as compensation next June.
Leading up to the Oakland trade, the asking price for Lester was believed to be two Grade A prospects. Boston is confident they’ll turn the draft pick into a top-level prospect, but they passed on landing another in exchange for a Major League bat. Lester’s pending free agency and what happens with Cespedes over the next year will determine if that was a smart sacrifice.
Oakland Athletics, Boston Red Sox, Official Trade
By RealGM Staff Report
The Opsera is a statistic RealGM Executive Editor Chris Reina created in order to objectively rank teams by how well they hit (OPS) and pitch (ERA).
In order to determine the Opsera rating for each, we take their OPS, multiply that number by 10 to move the decimal point over one place to the right and then subtract their ERA from that number.
All statistics are through Sunday, July 27
Rankings from last week are in parenthesizes.
1. (1) Oakland Athletics – 4.25
It's becoming more and more likely that Oakland will sit in the top spot for the remainder of the season.
2. (3) Washington Nationals – 3.95
A gradual rise has the Nationals, seven wins in 10 games, as the class of the National League.
3. (2) Los Angeles Dodgers – 3.91
Los Angeles has the best road record -- 34-23 -- in baseball.
4. (4) Los Angeles Angels – 3.79
With Troy Tulowitzki on the DL, Mike Trout (5.6) will soon lead the Major Leagues in WAR.
5. (5) Detroit Tigers – 3.65
The Tigers, who ranked ninth in ERA in each of the last two seasons, sit 22nd entering the week.
6. (6) Seattle Mariners – 3.63
7. (12) Milwaukee Brewers – 3.56
T8. (7) Atlanta Braves – 3.50
-- (T9) St. Louis Cardinals – 3.50
-- (11) Baltimore Orioles – 3.50
11. (T9) San Francisco Giants – 3.49
12. (8) Pittsburgh Pirates – 3.48
13. (T13) Toronto Blue Jays – 3.44
14. (15) Tampa Bay Rays – 3.42
15. (16) Cleveland Indians – 3.35
16. (T13) Cincinnati Reds – 3.31
17. (17) New York Mets – 3.22
18. (18) Boston Red Sox – 3.17
19. (19) Kansas City Royals – 3.15
20. (20) New York Yankees – 3.13
T21. (21) Miami Marlins – 3.07
-- (22) Chicago White Sox – 3.07
23. (23) San Diego Padres – 2.96
24. (24) Chicago Cubs – 2.89
25. (26) Colorado Rockies – 2.88
26. (25) Arizona Diamondbacks – 2.76
27. (27) Philadelphia Phillies – 2.67
28. (28) Minnesota Twins – 2.54
29. (29) Houston Astros – 2.44
30. (30) Texas Rangers – 2.13
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