Well, that was an exciting trade deadline, wasn't it?
This year's July 31 non-waiver deadline had everything that baseball fans can ask for. We saw a former Cy Young winner, still very much in his peak, get dealt; a true ace for the defending World Series champions found a new home.
Even the non-superstar players who were dealt generated buzz because they are still producing at strong levels. It's the first time in years where all the rumors prior to the deadline actually led to movement, instead of just seeing a slew of relievers change hands.
Making this year's trading season even more unique were the types of deals being consummated. Prospects are all the rage in baseball because they aren't going to cost much money when they eventually graduate, so teams are holding onto them for dear life.
As a result, general managers had to get more creative, so we saw more deals involving already-established big leaguers and short-term control happen. It was all fascinating, but who came out ahead on the biggest deals from July 31?
Deal No. 1
Oakland Acquires Jon Lester & Jonny Gomes from Boston
Boston Acquires Yoenis Cespedes & Draft Pick from Oakland
The first deal of the day provided further evidence that Oakland general manager Billy Beane has no illusions about where his team is at this season and what they must do to compete for a championship.
Nearly four weeks after acquiring Jeff Samardzija from the Chicago Cubs, Beane pulled off another shocker by dealing for Boston ace Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes, via MLB's official roster moves Twitter account:
Make no mistake, the Athletics acquired Lester to get them over the October hump that has tripped them up in the last two years. Casey Pratt of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area provided evidence of how dominant the left-hander has been in the Fall Classic:
Jon Lester: 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in World Series games. #Athletics— Casey Pratt (@CaseyPrattCSN) August 1, 2014
The price for Lester, who is in the final year of his contract and is having his best season by ERA (2.52) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.66) standards, was high but not as grand as you might have thought.
Jonny Gomes isn't a non-entity in this deal, either. He will fit in nicely with Oakland's platoon-based offense, given that he has crushed left-handed pitching in his career (.875 OPS) and in 2014 (.831 OPS).
Yoenis Cespedes can put on a show in the Home Run Derby and should hit for even more power going from spacious O.co Coliseum to the short left field in Fenway Park. However, he's limited offensively because his on-base skills are virtually non-existent.
For Boston, though, the deal is practical because Cespedes is signed through 2015 and adds far more power to the outfield mix than the Red Sox currently have. His 17 homers are more than the entire Boston outfield in 2014 (14).
They also get a draft pick in the second compensation round next year, likely in the 65-75 range, and this gives them more slot money to get creative. It's not a great return for a pitcher of Lester's caliber, but since he's only under contract for two more months, the front office did well.
Oakland's grade: A-
Boston's grade: B
Deal No. 2
Detroit Acquires David Price from Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay Acquires Drew Smyly and Willy Adames from Detroit and Nick Franklin from Seattle
Seattle Acquires Austin Jackson from Detroit
Sensing that Oakland was building a pitching staff that could rival theirs in a potential postseason series, the Detroit Tigers pulled off the surprise of the deadline by acquiring David Price from Tampa Bay, via the Tigers' official Twitter account:
The deal also included Seattle, which acquired Austin Jackson from Detroit and sent Nick Franklin to Tampa Bay, via the Mariners' official Twitter account:
#Mariners acquire OF Austin Jackson as part of three-team deal with Tampa Bay and Detroit. INF Nick Franklin sent to Rays.— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) July 31, 2014
Starting with the headliner, Price serves two purposes for Detroit. One, he makes an already-strong rotation that much better by slotting somewhere in the mix with Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez in the first three games of a potential playoff series.
Sorry, Justin Verlander fans, but he's not getting it done anymore and shouldn't be starting before Game 4 of any postseason series.
Price has had an interesting season, to say the least. He leads the American League with 189 strikeouts and 170.2 innings pitched, but has also been more homer-prone than ever before with a league-high 20 allowed.
The good news is the 2012 American League Cy Young winner has been more effective at keeping the ball in the park lately, allowing just three homers in six July starts.
Another reason Price benefits the Tigers is simply insurance for Scherzer. Price is under team control through 2015, so Detroit can afford to let the 2013 AL Cy Young winner leave via free agency this offseason and know that there won't be a significant drop in production from the rotation.
For a team with a championship window in danger of closing at any moment, given the age of key players, Detroit has to strike while the iron is hot. This move enhances the Tigers' chances in 2014 and keeps the window open in 2015.
For Seattle, the deal is a win because it upgraded in center field with Austin Jackson and didn't have to give up anything of substantial value. Franklin was a solid prospect coming through the system, but never hit well in 119 games with the Mariners (.214/.291/.358).
Jackson doesn't address Seattle's need for power, yet his ability to handle center field in a big park and get on base at a .330-.340 clip will help the Mariners score more runs.
On the Tampa Bay side, not a lot of fans or analysts are high on the deal. ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted notes from an informal poll he conducted around the league:
Informal polling: Lots of folks around MLB surprised that TB didn't get more for David Price. Feeling is could've done this in December.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) August 1, 2014
We tend to get caught up in the idea of a player having team control, but if the player in question is already making $14 million through arbitration and able to ask for $20-plus million in 2015, how much value does that really have?
There aren't a lot of teams around baseball that can afford to give a single player $20 million, so whatever leverage Tampa Bay had was marginal, at best.
Plus, Smyly is a solid pitcher. He was brilliant as a multi-inning reliever for Detroit last season, posting a 2.37 ERA with 81 strikeouts and 17 walks in 76 innings. This year, the 25-year-old hasn't been as good in the rotation, allowing 111 hits with a 3.93 ERA in 105.1 innings.
Given that he's under control through 2018 and entering his first year of arbitration, Smyly makes a lot of sense for the Rays.
Willy Adames, the third guy in the deal for Tampa Bay, immediately became the team's No. 2 prospect, according to MLB.com, drawing raves for his polish and ability to perform well despite being the youngest player in the Midwest League:
We won't know what kind of player Adames is for a few years, so it's hard to give Tampa Bay a definitive grade. If he turns into a solid everyday shortstop, the deal will look better in retrospect.
As it stands, it's not bad for anyone.
Detroit's grade: A
Seattle's grade: A-
Tampa Bay's grade: B
Deal No. 3
St. Louis Acquires John Lackey from Boston
Boston Acquires Allen Craig and Joe Kelly from St. Louis
There was no trade chip more fascinating than John Lackey, due to the $500,000 salary he will make next season thanks to a clause in his contract that stated he would make around the league minimum by missing significant time for an elbow injury.
One Tommy John surgery in 2012 later, and suddenly Lackey found himself in an awkward predicament as a quality starting pitcher making slightly more than a rookie in an era where back-end veteran starters get paid $10-12 million per season.
The Red Sox were able to flip Lackey to St. Louis for two cost-controlled players in Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, via the Cardinals' official Twitter:
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
Craig and Kelly present Cherington with options for the offseason. Craig will benefit by going to a place where he doesn't have to be exclusively in the outfield, which he plays poorly, perhaps moonlighting with Mike Napoli at first base or giving David Ortiz a day off at DH.
Who was the biggest winner on July 31?
Kelly is a ground-ball pitcher going from a St. Louis team that ranked first in defensive runs saved to a Red Sox squad that is 14th in that category, via FanGraphs.com. He throws hard, averaging 94.7 mph with the fastball, but has never struck out more than 6.4 per nine innings.
While Craig seems like a player who can bounce back from a bad three-month stretch in 2014 to become the .290/.340/.460 hitter he's been throughout his career, Kelly is just a body giving the Red Sox innings to get through 2014.
The Cardinals had to rebuild their rotation through trades because Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha are hurt and Shelby Miller has been inconsistent. Lackey doesn't dramatically alter the National League Central race, but he's still an above-average pitcher by ERA+ (108, per Baseball-Reference.com) standards.
Plus, with Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn at the top of the rotation, St. Louis didn't need an ace. It needed someone to provide quality innings who is capable of starting a playoff game. Lackey more than fits that bill, as the Cardinals saw last October.
With Craig out of the mix in St. Louis, top prospect Oscar Taveras can step into the right field throne that will be his for the next decade.
St. Louis' grade: B+
Boston's grade: B-
If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter.