Trade Retrospective: Red Sox continue sell off, trade Jon Lester to the Athletics for Yoenis Céspedes

For the fifth straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.

The Red Sox were very busy at the 2014 trade deadline. Another one of the many trades this franchise made that year included trading Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes to the Athletics for Yoenis Céspedes and a competitive balance round pick.

In this trade retrospective series, trades will be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.

The Deal

I have discussed the Red Sox and the A’s in this space before, so I will not completely rehash it here. Suffice it to say that the Red Sox were going nowhere that season, and the A’s were trying to hang on to their division lead.

As mentioned in the previous link, the A’s had already traded for Jason Hammel, but he was off to a terrible start in Oakland. Over his first four starts with the team, he had a ghastly 10.56 RA9 with peripherals that were nearly as bad. Obviously a team should not overreact to one bad month, but it is understandable that they would not want to take any chances in a tight division race. Oakland needed more rotation help, and quickly.

Lester was enjoying a career-year in Boston, and just in time for his impending free agency. He had a 3.27 RA9, and his peripherals were quite good as well, walking only 5.5 percent of batters faced while striking out over a quarter of them.

Parting with Céspedes for a rental was likely painful for Billy Beane, because he was hitting well with a slash line of .256/.303/.464. However, the A’s had a top-five offense in baseball when adjusting for league and park effects, so they could take the hit in the lineup in order to further bolster their rotation.

The A’s also succeeded in acquiring Gomes as another member of their platoon squad. He was a fourth outfielder best used only against lefties and never as a defensive replacement.

Ironically, I recall he had more than few fielding highlights during his time in Boston, but they were always the result of doing a great job on making catches on flyballs that he misplayed in the first place.

It was a little surprising that the Red Sox did not trade Lester for prospects, but this was not a rebuilding team. There was every reason to believe that they could compete again in 2015, so trading a rental for some major league ready outfield help made perfect sense, and it is not like they could not sign Lester back in free agency if they wanted to (which they didn’t).

Their incumbent right fielder, Shane Victorino, had a memorable 2013 season with the team, but his 2014 season was marred with injuries and lack of productivity. In fact, the day before this trade was his last of the season, as he had to miss the rest of the year because of back surgery. Although Céspedes’ lack of on-base skills were concerning, his power and defense would make him a great successor to Victorino.

One could argue that one year and two months of Céspedes was a high price for renting Jon Lester, but as I mentioned in the Samardzija/Hammel trade, it made sense for a team going all-in that season. I would have had no problem executing this trade if I were Beane, even if the Red Sox did get the better end of it in the long-run.

The Results

I won’t rehash what happened with the A’s in detail, we all know the story: they ended up losing the division and were eliminated in an epic Wild Card game by the runnin’ Royals.

Lester performed to expectations and gave the team what they paid for. He had a 2.82 RA9 over his 11 starts with the team, which is actually roughly equivalent to his 3.27 RA9 in Fenway Park given how it and The Coliseum are on opposite ends of the park factors spectrum.

Unfortunately, it all fell apart during the Wild Card game. Bob Melvin made the correct call in having Lester start it, but he gave up six runs on eight hits and two walks in 7 13 innings.

Lester went on to sign a six-year, $155 million deal in free agency with the Cubs, which has worked out quite well overall for Chicago. He especially shined in the Cubs’ 2016 championship season, turning in a 2.53 RA9 in 32 starts and finishing second in Cy Young voting. The 2020 season will be the final year of his contract.

Gomes was not doing so well before the trade, and things only got worse after it. He had only 75 PA with his former team and hit only .234/.320/.250. The 2015 season turned out to be his last, splitting time between the Braves and Royals while hitting only .213/.313/.347.

Much to my surprise, Céspedes did not work out with the Red Sox at all. He hit only .269/.296/.423 with just 5 HR in his Boston tenure. That, combined with rumors he was unhappy, led to the team trading him to Detroit, in a deal I covered in detail last week.

It was a big disappointment for a Red Sox team that was counting on him for 2015, and one has to wonder if they would have declined to sign Hanley Ramírez had they not felt that it was in the team’s best interests to part with Céspedes.

A’s Results

Remaining Control WAR
Remaining Control WAR
Jon Lester 0 1.8
Jonny Gomes 0 -0.5
Total 0 1.3

Baseball Reference

Again, Lester performed as expected, but I was surprised to see how much of that was offset by Gomes’ poor performance. The A’s finished 10 games out of first place, so it is not like he made a difference there, but they missed the first Wild Card slot by just one game. It is still a stretch to say that Gomes was the difference maker there, too, though. Still it makes you think. The A’s would have been better off just designating him for assignment after the trade.

Red Sox Results

Remaining Control WAR
Remaining Control WAR
Yoenis Céspedes 1 1.5

Baseball Reference

Yo’s defense made up for his lackluster offense and provided for a productive two months with the Red Sox, but they did not acquire him for what he could do in 2014. Who knows what would have happened had they hung on to him, but he did have a career year in 2015. Hanley, on the other hand, was a sub-replacement level player.

The trade made sense for both sides, but the results were a little strange. One has to wonder how much better this would have worked out for the Sox had they held on to Céspedes after the 2014 season. Even if he had continued to struggle in Boston and left in free agency, they likely would not have signed Hanley to that disastrous deal. It’s certainly an interesting “what if”.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.

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