After nearly 48 hours of feverish speculation and rumors, the Boston Red Sox have finally traded Jon Lester. But his destination comes as a big surprise.
The Oakland Athletics, who many expected to be on the periphery of talks during Thursday's deadline after landing Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel already, have swooped in to further bolster their rotation. And perhaps even more surprisingly, the A's have sent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes back to Boston in return for Lester and Jonny Gomes.
If the A's had gone all-in already this season with the acquisitions of Samardzija and Hammel, trading for Lester represents an even bigger statement of intent. Oakland already has one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, with a starting rotation that has posted MLB's fourth-best ERA (3.32) and 15th-best FIP (3.90) and xFIP (3.79).
But with a rotation that still possesses question marks (Scott Kazmir hasn't thrown more than 158 innings since 2007, Jesse Chavez has a 4.21 ERA since the start of June and has never thrown more than 105 innings as a professional), Billy Beane clearly felt the need to add another big-time starter as other teams waffled to meet Boston's asking price for Lester.
Without a doubt, Lester is a big acquisition and upgrade for Oakland's rotation. The left-hander is in the midst of a career year and is currently on pace to set career-best marks in ERA (2.52), FIP (2.62), walk rate (5.5%), and K%-BB% (20.2%). He has been the third-best starter in the AL in terms of fWAR, only trailing new division-mate Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber.
Given how tight the race is in the AL West (the Angels come into Thursday just 2.5 games behind Oakland), Lester will be a big boost in helping the A's avoid having to face Hernandez and the Mariners in the AL Wild Card game.
The A's can now head into October with a rotation that matches up with any in MLB. Lester, Samardzija, and Sonny Gray are a fearsome top three, and that also gives Oakland the luxury of using either Kazmir, Hammel, or Chavez as their fourth starter in the playoffs.
Adding Gomes also softens the blow of losing Cespedes, with the bearded outfielder batting .302/.400/.431 against lefties this season. Considering Oakland's knack for using platoons, something tells me they can find a suitable partner to pair with Gomes out in left field.
For the Red Sox, the intent behind adding Cespedes is clear. Boston's outfield production has been woeful in 2014, with Red Sox outfielders batting .247/.318/.348 and producing at a rate 15% below league average.
Despite his duo of Home Run Derby titles, Cespedes has lost some of the luster from his rookie campaign. The 28-year-old is hitting .256/.303/.464 with 17 home runs this season, though his power production still means he has hit 13% above league-average in 2014 (113 wRC+).
Fenway Park should also be a much more friendly place for Cespedes than o.Co Coliseum, which has never been kind to right-handed power hitters. The Green Monster will surely be a frequent target for the Cuban native, and considering the type of power Cespedes has shown, fans on the Monster seats will have to pay extra attention when Cespedes strolls to the plate.
Cespedes has been a slightly below-average defender in left field during his time in the majors, but playing left field in Fenway shouldn't give him many problems. All in all, the Red Sox acquired an outfielder who will be paid $10.5 million in 2015 (a bargain for the type of production he can provide), while adding the kind of power bat their lineup sorely lacks.
For the A's, Lester gives them even more hope that they can advance past the Divisional Round in the playoffs for the first time since 2006. It's a gutsy move, but considering Lester's postseason prowess and overall performance in the past 18 months, it's one that could pay big dividends for Oakland come playoff time.
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Alex Skillin is an editor at Beyond the Box Score. He also writes for SB Nation's MLB hub and The Hardball Times, among other places. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexSkillin.