While there is always drama leading up to the MLB trade deadline, the 2014 version featured a lot more excitement than usual.
Before the clock reached 4 p.m. ET, there were a number of blockbuster trades that will have a major impact on the rest of the regular season and the playoffs. No one seemed safe from a potential move, ranging from bench players to All-Stars.
Among all the moves that took place were a few headlines deals, each of which were assessed and graded below.
|Red Sox Receive||Athletics Receive|
|OF Yoenis Cespedes||LHP Jon Lester|
|Competitive Balance Pick||OF Jonny Gomes|
|Grade: B||Grade: A|
The Boston Red Sox quickly went from World Series winners to bottom feeders. As a result, they had no problem going through a fire sale before the deadline.
Jon Lester was the start of a major overhaul that also saw John Lackey, Stephen Drew, Felix Doubront and others leave town. The Oakland Athletics confirmed the biggest deal of the week:
Lester has the talent to be an ace and he has pitched like it this year, ranking fifth in the American League with a 2.52 ERA. Most importantly, he has been excellent in the postseason while helping the Red Sox win two World Series titles. ESPN Stats and Info notes how good he has been in the final round:
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
Bob Nightengale of USA Today explains the reason Oakland has been so aggressive:
The #Athletics indeed made the Jeff Samardzija trade to win the AL West. The Lester trade was made to win the World Series.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) July 31, 2014
At the same time, Jonny Gomes gives the Athletics a player who can hit lefties well and get on base at a higher rate than Yoenis Cespedes. If he can platoon with Sam Fuld, who was acquired for Tommy Milone, the team will not lose much offensively.
The front office obviously believes the A's are a favorite to win a World Series, and there is plenty of reason to believe them.
On the other hand, the Red Sox lost an elite pitcher who was set to be a free agent at the end of the season anyway. When asked about possibly returning to Boston next year if he was traded, Lester responded, "Yeah, why not? 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," via Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston.
Still, this is a big risk for a team that still wants to remain in contention. If Lester goes anywhere else this offseason, Boston will have lost a key player for an outfielder that might be gone after 2015 anyway. The team might have been better off asking for younger prospects in a deal that could help in the future.
The positive feelings from this trade could end up turning sour a few years from now, making this a risky deal.
|Rays Receive||Tigers Receive||Mariners Receive|
|LHP Drew Smyly (from DET)||LHP David Price (from TB)||OF Austin Jackson (from DET)|
|SS Willy Adames (from DET)|
|INF Nick Franklin (from SEA)|
|Grade: B-||Grade: A||Grade: A+|
There were various reports throughout the day about which players were going where, but MLB finally announced the pieces of the three-way trade:
The three players going to the Tampa Bay Rays make this a pretty good haul for the organization, as noted by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:
Smyly, Franklin for Price makes no sense. Smyly, Franklin and Willy Adames makes a lot more. Adames, 18, fast-rising shortstop prospect.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 31, 2014
Jim Callis of MLB.com also likes the young shortstop added late:
Doing a lot of writing right now & don't have time to Tweet a lot, but @RaysBaseball got a VG young SS in Adames. Don't sleep on his upside.— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) July 31, 2014
That being said, the Rays were only 5.5 games out of a wild-card spot at the time of the deal after going 9-2 since the All-Star break. The group clearly had a chance to compete for a playoff berth, but this dream is likely dead after dealing David Price.
The 28-year-old pitcher was also under team control through 2015, so this shows the team is not planning on compete in either this season or next. It is truly a hard time to be a Rays fan.
Of course, Tampa Bay's loss becomes a big gain for the Detroit Tigers. Price already has four All-Star appearances and a Cy Young award, making him someone who can make a difference for the rest of the year and the postseason.
If it turns out to be a series between the Tigers and Athletics, the pitching battle will be truly incredible to watch. Even though Detroit gave up plenty of talent, this is a great move for a contending squad.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners were winners while playing a small part in this deal, as noted by Joe Sheehan of Sports Illustrated:
Buried in this is Nick Franklin for Austin Jackson, which is a pretty sweet deal for the #mariners.— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) July 31, 2014
Even though Austin Jackson is having a down year at the plate with a slash line of .270/.330/.397, the Mariners added a useful hitter who can help immediately for someone who is still a few years away from contributing.
Despite Seattle's recent slide, the squad remains very much in the playoff hunt thanks to this trade.
|Red Sox Receive||Cardinals Receive|
|RHP Joe Kelly||RHP John Lackey|
|OF Allen Craig||LHP Corey Littrell|
|Grade: A-||Grade: C+|
Even after dealing for Justin Masterson a day earlier, the Cardinals stayed aggressive and traded for John Lackey:
OFFICIAL: #stlcards have acquired RHP John Lackey, LHP Corey Littrell & cash considerations from Red Sox for RHP Joe Kelly & OF Allen Craig— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) July 31, 2014
Lackey has had a solid season for the Red Sox, posting a 3.60 ERA in 21 starts with an 11-7 record. His two World Series titles and 16 career starts in the postseason are also likely reasons the Cardinals made this deal.
The 35-year-old pitcher gives the team someone it can count on over the next few months instead of the young arms in the current rotation. Of course, those young pitchers have a lot of talent. Assuming Michael Wacha can return healthy, the trio of him, Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn would be formidable on its own. Adding in Masterson, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly, this rotation would be just fine.
Instead, St. Louis got rid of two talented players who could have been big parts of the future for a pitcher who is far past his prime.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports likes the deal for the Red Sox:
#redsox made a great a trade getting craig and kelly for lackey. still need more pitching, tho.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) July 31, 2014
Passan notes how the contract situation also helps Boston:
For one pennant drive and another $500K year of Lackey, Boston got Craig at 3/26.5 (plus $13M option), four years of Joe Kelly. Huge return.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 31, 2014
Both Kelly and Allen Craig are in the midst of down years, but the talent is there to expect a turnaround next season and beyond. Even as the Red Sox traded away veteran players, the rebuilding process should not take too long.
Additionally, this situation is very different from Lester as Lackey was not expected to have much of a future in Boston anyway.
The Cardinals took a big risk with this trade to upgrade a pitching staff that did not need much help, and it ended up giving the Red Sox exactly what they needed.
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.