The Red Sox wisely dealt Jon Lester Thursday morning in a trade that positions them better for the future.
Not three years down the road but next year.
Boston acquired Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes in exchange for Lester and Jonny Gomes. The Red Sox also received a competitive balance pick, according to Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan.
Lester will be nothing more than a rental for the Athletics, who cannot afford to compete for the free-agent-to-be in the open market. On the other hand, Cespedes is under contract through 2015, and Lester has said he wants to return to Boston.
As the Boston Globe's Pete Abraham noted, Boston's offseason pursuit of Lester could be fruitless. Suitors will not need to forfeit a draft pick if they sign Lester, as a result of Thursday's trade.
The notion that Lester is somehow likely to return to the #RedSox is a little fanciful. No draft pick attached now. His price goes up.— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) July 31, 2014
But Boston still has as good a chance as anyone to re-sign its former ace—maybe an even better chance.
“Money doesn’t buy you happiness. There’s some guys, that drives them. That’s great,” Lester told WEEI.com's Alex Speier on Sunday. “For me, I want to be happy. I want to be comfortable. I want to be in a place that wants me and appreciates what I do.”
If Lester stays true to those words, Boston could re-sign the southpaw, who is having the best season of his career. His 2.62 FIP, 3.03 xFIP, 2.01 walks per nine innings and 1.12 WHIP are all career-bests.
Even if Lester accepts a lucrative contract in Los Angeles, New York or some other big market this offseason, Boston will have received more than it would have by keeping Lester. Cespedes is under contract next year and the Red Sox received a draft pick, albeit a slightly worse pick than they would have gotten if Lester left them for another team in free agency.
In trading for Yoenis Cespedes, a free agent after 2015, rather than prospects, Boston showed it still plans to contend, not punt, next yr.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 31, 2014
Cespedes has accounted for 2.3 wins above replacement. His .332 wOBA isn't great but it's better than Boston's collective clip, and he has produced 113 wRC+.
Lester/Cespedes a good deal for both teams. Oakland gets a dominant rental who can be a David Cone-like hired gun, BOS gets needed power.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 31, 2014
Cespedes has 17HRs. #RedSox OFs this season: 14.— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) July 31, 2014
Of course, by dealing Lester and John Lackey, Boston waved the white flag for 2014. Cespedes cannot transform the Red Sox into a playoff team this year. Nor can Allen Craig and Joe Kelly—the two returns for Lackey from St. Louis, as reported by Peter Gammons.
The Athletics, meanwhile, will be a popular pick to win the World Series this fall.
This trade is also great for them. They won't be able to pay Cespedes in free agency, and he's not as snug of a fit in their system as Billy Beane had initially hoped.
Lester strengthens their chances of avoiding the Wild Card game, and has excelled in the postseason—especially the World Series—throughout his career.
But Boston has to be thrilled with the return.
Cespedes and Ortiz will give the Red Sox a formidable heart of the order next year. Craig's well-documented struggles in 2014 were preceded by three years of success at the dish. His .281 BABIP in contrast to his career .330 BABIP indicates a resurgence could be around the corner. And Joe Kelly's 3.72 xFIP suggests he has actually been better than last year, when he broke through with a 10-5 record and 2.69 ERA but 4.19 xFIP, as per Fangraphs.
And then there's always the chance Lester re-signs with the Red Sox.
Based on his comments, Lester seems rather intent on returning to Boston. If that happens this offseason, Boston walks away from this deal as a prescient, unequivocal winner.
All statistics are courtesy of Fangraphs, unless otherwise noted.