One things is abundantly clear at the 2014 MLB trade deadline: Billy Beane is willing to do whatever it takes.
The Oakland Athletics general manager is all in on a 2014 World Series crown. He's been around the league long enough to know that you can ride a deep pitching staff all the way to a title and is loading up on starting talent, even at the expense of losing a fan favorite.
The Boston Red Sox were also involved in as separate blockbuster, trading starting pitcher John Lackey, minor-league lefty Corey Littrell and cash to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Allen Craig and pitcher Joe Kelly, per Ian Browne of MLB.com.
Here is a list of grades for the latest deals coming in just under the wire, followed by analysis of the more prominent moves.
|Boston Red Sox||OF Yoenis Cespedes, 2015 Competitive Balance Round B pick||A+|
|Oakland Athletics||LHP Jon Lester, OF Jonny Gomes, cash considerations (under $1 million)||A-|
|Boston Red Sox||OF Allen Craig, RHP Joe Kelly||A-|
|St. Louis Cardinals||SP John Lackey, cash considerations, LHP Corey Littrell||B+|
|Minnesota Twins||LHP Tommy Milone||B-|
|Oakland Athletics||OF Sam Fuld||B+|
|Boston Red Sox||Player to be named later||B|
|Chicago Cubs||Felix Doubront||C+|
|St. Louis Cardinals||Justin Masterson||B-|
|Cleveland Indians||OF James Ramsey||B+|
MLB.com, grades by Nate Loop
Here is what Oakland has acquired in starting pitching this month.
|Jeff Samardzija*||Chicago Cubs||17||2.83||108.0||103||1.204||0.6|
|Jason Hammel*||Chicago Cubs||17||2.98||108.2||104||1.021||0.8|
|Jon Lester||Boston Red Sox||21||2.52||143.0||149||1.119||0.6|
Baseball-Reference.com, *stats prior to trade
Jason Hammel hasn't fared well in Northern California, which might have pressured Beane to go for Lester.
The big trade has to sting a bit for Athletics fans, giving up a delightful all-around player in Cespedes, who routinely amazes with his Howitzer of an arm and heavy bat.
It's a great bit of business for the Red Sox in picking up a right-handed power bat—Cespedes has launched 17 homers this year—to back up David Ortiz in the lineup, especially one that is under contract through the end of 2015.
Cespedes' could also turn quite a few of those off-the-Green Monster doubles into outs—or at least hold some players to singles—with his strong arm in left field.
ESPN's Buster Olney did wonder what the trade meant for one budding Red Sox star:
With Craig, Napoli, Cespedes, Ortiz, Victorino, a big question now is: What are the plans for Jackie Bradley, Jr.?— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 31, 2014
Boston gets the better rating, due to the fact that Lester could very easily return to the team if the A's utilize him purely as a rental. Lester has expressed a desire to play in Boston, despite the contract impasse.
"Yeah, why not?'' Lester said earlier in July, via Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com. "I mean, this is what I know, this is what I love. Like I've said many times, this is where I want to be. If they trade me, I completely understand."
Oakland did pretty well to mitigate the damage by picking up Jonny Gomes and Sam Fuld in separate trades; both players have played for the Athletics in the past. However, the piecemeal approach and their combined age (65) means Beane will have to unearth promising outfield talent over the next couple of seasons.
Tommy Milone should be quite happy with his move, as he will have plenty of opportunity to work his way into a prominent role in the Minnesota Twins organization after being relegated to Triple-A status in Oakland, a minor casualty of the pitching trades made by Beane.
ESPN's Jerry Crasnick liked the pickup for the Twins:
Tommy Milone is pretty good, and he'll do well at Target Field. Nice job by Terry Ryan and #twins in that deal.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 31, 2014
The Red Sox deserve further kudos for nabbing plenty of talent in giving up Lackey, a 35-year-old righty currently sporting a 3.60 ERA.
Allen Craig is a fine hitter mired in essentially a season-long slump; he's batting .237 but hit over .300 in the three seasons prior to this one.
Joe Kelly is just 26 years old and, although he is having a down year, could very easily revitalize his play in Boston and return to the form that propelled him to a 10-5 record with a 2.65 ERA in 2013.
That's not to say this is a trade the Cardinals shouldn't have made. They have their own championship aspirations after finishing as runners-up last season, and the recently-acquired Justin Masterson is no sure success story.
Which of these players was the best trade-deadline acquisition?
Lackey can help eat innings and save a tiring Cardinals bullpen; he's thrown seven or more innings in 10 starts this season.
It's interesting to see the Athletics and Red Sox in something of a role reversal at this deadline. The low-budget Athletics are making moves with a short-term impact and an eye for winning now.
Many small-market teams don't have the luxury of a crafty general manager like Beane. The astronomical plus-162 run differential also puts considerable pressure on this team to live up to its historically great numbers.
Meanwhile the Red Sox, less than one season removed from winning 97 games and the World Series, are the ones busy selling off players and looking toward a crop of young talent and minor leaguers to reboot.
ESPN Stats & Info pointed out the historic nature of the fire sale:
Red Sox 1st defending WS champ to trade 3 pitchers midseason (Lester, Lackey, Doubront) who pitched & won game in WS prior year @EliasSports— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 31, 2014
Beantown can and will bounce back—likely sooner rather than later—with the big budget, winning tradition and talented farm system.
Beane will be hard-pressed to assemble a roster like the one he has this season, especially with Josh Donaldson's looming expiring contract. It's World Series or bust in Oakland.