The day of the 2014 trade deadline was one of the busiest in recent memory, as GMs scurried to improve their teams in any way possible. The reigning World Series champion Boston Red Sox were a part of multiple big deals, but as sellers, not buyers. Several days prior to the deadline, Boston traded away starter Jake Peavy for Edwin Escobar, a starting pitcher ranked by MLB.com as one of the top 100 prospects prior to the season. But this was only the start.
Boston also traded one of their better relievers, Andrew Miller, for another pitcher, Eduardo Rodriguez, who was ranked as high as 68th on MLB.com’s top prospects list. More importantly, the Red Sox went on to trade several pieces who were crucial in their 2013 World Series run. Even so, these trades actually were beneficial for Boston in the long term. Starting in 2015, the Red Sox should be in contention, in part because they knew it was the right time to move on.
The genius of trading Jon Lester
The first major move on July 31 was the trade of starting pitcher Jon Lester, left fielder Jonny Gomes and a 2015 compensatory pick for Oakland Athletics right fielder Yoenis Cespedes. The loss of Jonny Gomes is not going to hurt Boston much. After a 2013 season where he produced a multitude of clutch hits, Gomes has slumped through most of the year. At his point, he is no more than an aging fourth outfielder or platoon player.
At first look, though, one might wonder why Boston would trade away their best pitcher and two time World Champion. The move actually makes sense, as Lester was having his best year to date, and woud command a sizeable return.
In 21 starts for Boston, he went 10-7, with a 2.52 ERA and 149 strikeouts. At the end of the year, however, Lester is a free agent. It is rumored that he already turned down a 4 year, $70 million contract extension, instead opting to test the open waters of free agency at the end of the season. Had the last place Red Sox kept Lester through the end of the year, they still probably would not have made the postseason.
Also, if he ended up signing with another team, all they would have gotten in return would be a compensatory draft pick. Instead, they keep their options open. The Red Sox have the option to lure Lester back with a long term deal at the end of the year, though they probably won’t. Still, they got a huge return for their ace pitcher, in the form of Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes.
The 28 year old right fielder was in the midst of a solid year for Oakland, batting .256 with 17 home runs and 67 RBIs. He is under team control through the end of next year for around $10.5 million, and if they wish, the Red Sox can extend him. Although he struggles at time to get on base, the two-time defending Home Run Derby champion is known for his home run power.
Being a right handed hitter, Cespedes might only improve his statistics in Fenway Park, especially with the presence of the Green Monster in left field. In the foreseeable future, the slugger should hit plenty of balls off or over the Monster. Additionally, Cespedes will be a defensive presence for Boston, especially with his cannon of an arm. Try to take an extra base off Cespedes on a ball in the corner at Fenway. I dare you.
The shrewdness of trading John Lackey
The Red Sox made another big move by trading their second best starter, John Lackey, along with pitching prospect Corey Littrel to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig and pitcher Joe Kelly. This was another instance of a last place team getting a valuable return for a very good pitcher.
Lackey signed an $83 million free agent deal with the Red Sox in 2009, but disappointed in the first two years of the deal, before missing the third with Tommy John surgery. In the last two years, he has become a solid pitcher once again, posting ERAs of 3.52 and 3.60. Last year he was a big part of Boston’s championship run, so it was no surprise the Cardinals were interested. Additionally, because he missed all of the 2012 season, his contract was negotiated to the major league minimum in 2015, making him attractive trade bait.
Boston had little interest in keeping a 35 year old on their team for the next year and a half, and smartly waited for the right offer. Allen Craig, the first player they received, is another right handed hitter with decent power who has the potential to thrive playing in Fenway Park.
Craig only has a .237 average in 2014, but prior to this season, had consecutive campaigns batting over .300 with more than 90 RBIs. Moreover, he is under team control through 2017 for about $27 million overall, with a $13 million team option for 2018. If Craig can return to form with the Red Sox, then trading for him will have been a savvy move.
Boston also received 26 year old Joe Kelly, a low risk, high reward type of player. Kelly has only pitched to a 4.37 ERA through 7 starts in 2014. However, his 3.25 career ERA shows that he has the tools to be a starter at the major league level. He is under team control through 2018, so if he does not perform, there is nothing stopping Boston from trading or releasing him. In the best case scenario, he will perform more consistently, and become a staple in the Red Sox rotation for a long time.
Thinking toward 2015 and beyond
By making these moves, Boston gave up on a lost 2014 season. However, they should not be in the rebuilding phase for long. In 2015, they will try to go from last to first again, just as they did in 2013, and they are in very good position to do so. The addition of players like Cespedes, Craig, and Kelly, may end up playing very important roles in next year. Moreover, the team will have cap space to possibly sign some free agents this off season. Boston is down in the dumps right now, but it won’t be long until they are back.
Joe Setyon, sports editor of The Collegian at Grove City College, contributes to Three for Ten Sports as a baseball writer.