If there were ever a time for the usually frugal Oakland Athletics to give their best push for a championship, that time would be now. And that seems to be exactly what the club is doing.
The utilization of Jon Lester
The biggest news is, of course, the huge deal with the Red Sox. Boston ace Jon Lester was sent from the one coast to another along with Jonny Gomes for the two-time Home Run Derby champion Yoenis Cespedes.
Lester has had career numbers, and while the A’s may not have him longer than this year, both Lester and his new team stand to benefit from the continuation of that success. Both look to attain a World Series title (which would be Lester’s second consecutive), and for Lester, his output also has bearing on what he makes in free agency next year and beyond.
No doubt Oakland will make him a qualifying offer for the compensatory pick, not expecting to meet his asking price. Thus the trade actually for the southpaw includes a sort of future clause — Gomes and half a season of Lester, plus another pick to bolster the club in years to come.
Jarrod Parker and staffing the rotation
One interesting aspect few seem to have covered is Lester’s substitution (albeit late season) of ace Jarrod Parker, who is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March. Since it’s the second time the procedure has been performed on Parker’s pitching arm, he won’t be back until about this time next year. And with only a 4.5-year gap between the two procedures, he won’t want to rush things.
In any case, Lester acts as the ace Parker was supposed to be this season. He’s Parker’s temporary replacement for the World Series run. In all likelihood Lester will be gone after this season, but will have served his purpose. The A’s will see how they perform next year to determine whether or not to make another run, but their injured ace could return for the last month and a half of the season.
Jeff Samardzija will presumably still be around next year as well, unless a poor team performance prompts a trade. Hammel likely won’t, especially given how poorly he’s pitched since he moved to the west coast. He’s cost his new team almost a whole win under replacement in just three starts. It’s an impressively poor performance as he sits barely under a 10 ERA in the AL. It’s a good thing for Oakland Hammel was not the only piece acquired in that trade, because he certainly hasn’t met expectations.
But that is part of the reason Oakland pulled the trigger on the deal with Boston. Hammel’s uninspiring play raised questions, and they answered at least one of those questions in a big way. While Hammel’s future remains uncertain, the A’s can (and probably should) turn to Jesse Chavez if needed.
A reactionary trade with the Twins
Apart from these two big deals, Oakland also swapped young pitcher Tommy Milone, who performed well in the rotation early this year, for Minnesota Twins outfielder Sam Fuld.
Sam Fuld provides the kind of extra flexibility the A’s love to capitalize on. As I mentioned in my post on the Samardzija-Hammel trade, Stephen Vogt and Brandon Moss have been used in multiple capacities. While right fielder Josh Reddick was injured, catcher Vogt started in right. He’s still listed as backup right fielder as well as third-string at catcher and first base. Moss, the starting first baseman, is third-string in right. The only position without any backup is shortstop, where another former Boston player, Jed Lowrie (who has had an underwhelming career), comprises the entire list of depth.
Fuld is listed as a backup in every outfield position, and provides a certain amount of flexibility should anything happen to Gomes or Coco Crisp. Losing Cespedes is the most interesting part of the Boston-Oakland deal. The A’s might not have made the move without also acquiring a backup like Fuld because of the outfield questions remaining without the Cuban star. But I could be wrong. Pitching is really that important in the playoffs.
The A’s may hurt in the future for sending Tommy Milone to Minnesota, but it makes sense for this postseason-built roster, given the kind of depth they like to have across the field.
More firepower needed?
Richard Bergstrom of ESPN’s SweetSpot believes the A’s may need another bat for the postseason.
And after losing Cespedes in the deal with Boston, it’s a fair criticism. The power Oakland received from left field was a boost to its offense, first in runs scored and run differential. Perhaps the club needs to acquire another hitter to make absolutely sure they have the ability to play through the World Series.
But maybe they don’t. Gomes could be the right fit. After a poor 2011 campaign he played well in Oakland in 2012. Perhaps he’ll hit closer to the .262 he hit that year and it will help cover the hole Cespedes left. While his arm may not be a rocket, his defense is adequate (Cespedes’ defensive WAR was not spectacular either) and the added star pitcher has made sure the A’s staff can go toe-to-toe with any rotation in the AL.
Having all the pieces also doesn’t guarantee success. In a year they had the best starting corps in baseball and won a league-best 102 games, the 2011 Phillies were outdueled by the Cardinals in five games. They had technically made the right move by trading for Hunter Pence (all discussion of the poor scouting of their own talent traded away aside), but it ended up making no difference. It’s not a great argument against getting another solid bat, but regardless of the decision made, that realization needs to be there.
Few teams lack gaps throughout the roster, but even when those are filled, everything depends on a few players stepping up and performing when others aren’t.
The chips are all in. Now it’s time to see if the A’s can cash them.