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Has Trading Yoenis Cespedes Compromised MLB's Top-Scoring Offense?

Boston Red Sox's Yoenis Cespedes hits a two-run double during the third inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Jacob ShaferFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2014

Acquiring Jon Lester—a veteran hurler forged in the postseason cruciblewas a decidedly good thing for the Oakland A's as they prepare to make a run at their first World Series in the Billy Beane era. The guy they gave up to get Lester, though, was pretty good, too.

Just as Lester has had an immediate positive impact on the A's, Yoenis Cespedes has made his presence felt with the Boston Red Sox.

Since arriving in Beantown, Cespedes has smacked a pair of game-winning home runs and collected eight RBI in just 11 games. And he's grabbed the attention of his new teammates, including Big Papi himself, David Ortiz.

"He’s one scary dude up there,” Ortiz told The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo. “He’s got real big-time power. When he comes up there, pitchers are a little afraid."

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Should the A's be afraid they let a two-time defending Home Run Derby champ and one of the most promising sluggers in the game slip away?

We're dealing with a tiny sample size, admittedly, but in the 14 contests the Athletics have played without Cespedes they've averaged 3.8 runs per game, down from about 5 runs per game while the powerful Cuban wore the Green and Gold.

They've gone 7-7 in that stretch, including a 7-3 loss to the streaking Kansas City Royals on Thursday. 

Time to panic? Hardly. At 73-48 entering play Friday, Oakland still owns the best record in baseball, plus a two-game advantage over the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West. And they've still scored more runs than any other team.

And, again, Lester has thrown as advertised, going 3-0 with a 2.49 ERA and 20 strikeouts in three starts, including a complete-game shutout. 

The reality, though, is that Lester only pitches every fifth day. In the other four games, what the A's essentially have is a swap of Cespedes for Jonny Gomes, the other player acquired in the deal with Boston.

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 02:  Jonny Gomes #15 of the Oakland Athletics is congratulated by Josh Reddick #16 after Gomes scored in the bottom of the fifth inning against the Kansas City Royals at O.co Coliseum on August 2, 2014 in Oakland, California.  (Photo
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Gomes, a former Athletic, has value. But he's no Cespedes—in eight games with Oakland, Gomes has yet to collect an extra-base hit.

When the deal was consummated, a lot of folks in the East Bay were surprised. Like the Oakland marketing department, which was preparing to give away Cespedes T-shirts emblazoned with his nickname, "La Potencia," meaning "power." (The shirts went out anyway, the same day Lester made his A's debut, per USA Today's Nick Schwartz.) 

“My mind is blown,” Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick told SFGate.com's Susan Slusser at the time. “I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would give up Cespy."

For Beane, it was a simple calculation. Get the best player available, and go for the ring. "It’s a zero-sum game, and in Jon Lester, you’re dealing with someone who is one of the best at his position in the game and has been for a long time," Beane told Slusser. "We couldn’t pass up the opportunity."

Cespedes has one year and $10.5 million remaining on his contract and could become a free agent as soon as 2016 if the Red Sox don't lock him up. So theoretically, the A's might bring him back.

That doesn't fit Oakland's small-market, "moneyball" mould, though. The A's, who have baseball's fourth-lowest payroll, per ESPN.com, aren't in the business of signing top-shelf free agents to hefty contracts. They buy low, and develop from within.

That means they almost certainly won't re-sign Lester, who is a free agent after this season and has said he'd "definitely" consider a return to Boston, according to ESPNBoston.com

If the A's win a championship with Lester, it'll be hard to call the deal a failure regardless of the future.

If they come up short, they may well find themselves missing the scary dude that got away.

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