The Oakland Athletics are not hedging their bets or looking forward to next season. By acquiring Jon Lester from the Boston Red Sox in a blockbuster trade also featuring Yoenis Cespedes, Billy Beane and Co. are moving forward with a singular focus: the 2014 World Series.
Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com reports the full deal will see Lester, Jonny Gomes and cash considerations head west in exchange for Cespedes and a competitive balance draft pick. It was the first blockbuster on a very active day around Major League Baseball.
Lester is a true ace. The lefty sports a 2.52 ERA through 21 starts this season while striking out more than a batter per inning. He will join a rotation that already featured Jeff Samardzija, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir to create a group capable of matching up with anybody.
It's a deal that definitely comes with a lot of risk, however.
The three-time All-Star is slated to hit the free-agent market at season's end. When you combine the fact a trade means he won't be tied to compensation and the need for pitching around the league, he's likely to command a monster deal this winter.
Which team is now the World Series favorite?
Of course, the Athletics under Beane are well known for spending their more limited resources in a much different manner than other teams building contenders. It's the topic of the Moneyball book and film. So it's hard to imagine them making a gigantic splash with a long-term deal for Lester.
Cespedes is under team control for another season. Oakland could have kept him and his 25-homer power, giving it another key chip as it looks ahead next season.
Instead, the A's decided to swing the marquee deal for a player many teams were tracking in hopes it swings the balance of power in their favor.
The emergence of Stephen Vogt along with Gomes being part of the deal should help them offset the loss of Cespedes to an extent. Whatever difference there is will be more than made up by the fact Lester is now in the rotation.
He sounds ready for the new challenge:
One thing the left-hander definitely brings to the table is a playoff pedigree. In 13 career postseason appearances, 11 of which are starts, he holds a 2.11 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. He has also struck out 68 batters over 76.2 innings.
ESPN Stats and Info notes the numbers are even better in the World Series alone:
Lowest ERA in World Series history (starting pitcher, min. 20 IP) Jon Lester, 0.43 Harry Brecheen, 0.67 Claude Osteen, 0.86 Babe Ruth, 0.87— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 31, 2014
It all adds up to an extremely intriguing group: an offense that leads baseball with 535 runs, 18 more than any other team; a starting rotation that won't have a weakness if everybody can stay healthy for the playoffs; and a solid bullpen led by closer Sean Doolittle.
The Athletics have been knocked out of the playoffs in the division series by the Detroit Tigers each of the past two years. They have made the postseason seven times since 2000 but were unable to reach the World Series in any of those trips.
Oakland was good, especially considering its inability to spend at the same level as other championship hopefuls, but not quite good enough. The moves made in recent weeks, highlighted by the Lester addition, could very well change that.
Perhaps Beane and his A's will finally win the last game of the season. They certainly went all out to make that outcome a distinct possibility.