Lester, Gomes to Oakland for Cespedes

Lester, Gomes to Oakland for Cespedes
July 31, 2014, 9:45 am
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BOSTON -- The Red Sox weren't kidding when their manager, John Farrell, said on Wednesday: "I think we have every intention of competing to contend next year.''

It sure looked like that Thursday when the team shipped Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes to the Oakland A's. Instead of prospects, the Red Sox acquired outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and a second-round, competitive-balance draft pick.

Cespedes is an established major-league hitter with plus right-handed power. But there's a catch: Cespedes will be eligible for free agency after 2015 if the Red Sox don't sign him to an extension by October, 2015.

When Cespedes signed with A's as a free agent from Cuba, the unique contract allowed him to become a free agent after four seasons, without the threat of arbitration. Also, the Red Sox can't extend him a qualifying offer.

In the short term, Cespedes gives the Red Sox another run-producing bat to lengthen their lineup. Presumably, the Sox can have Cespedes hit anywhere from third to sixth in the lineup -- either in front of David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, or perhaps between them or after them.

That alone should improve an offense that has sputtered for much of the season, ranking 14th out of 15 teams in the American League. For the season, the Sox have hit .235 with runners in scoring position; only two A.L. teams (Minnesota and Houston) are worse in that regard.

Fenway should be an inviting ballpark for Cespedes, who has great raw pull power and can take advantage of The Wall in Fenway. This season, Cespedes has 17 homers in 399 at-bats with a slugging percentage of .464.

His presence alone will make the remainder of 2014 more interesting. The Red Sox may be far out of contention, but Cespedes's power and remarkable throwing arm will provide reasons to continue to watch a last-place club.

And Cespedes will help the Sox in the long term. A middle-of-the-lineup trio of Ortiz-Napoli-Cespedes is a strong foundation upon which to build.

Presumably, the Red Sox could have dealt Lester for young, less-established players or prospects, ones they could control for another five or six seasons. Instead, they went for a more established player to help them be competitive in 2015. The Sox don't believe that their fan base will stand for a complete rebuild, so they're treating 2015 in much the same way they did 2013: Rebuild on the fly and make it a goal to compete right away after a disappointing, last-place finish.

But that strategy comes with a substantial risk: No sooner had the Sox gotten "off the clock'' with Lester inching closer to free agency, to being back ''on the clock'' for Cespedes.

If the Sox don't extend him, they'll be right back to where they were with Lester -- with a short stay and a big decision to make.

Cespedes will turn 30 in October of 2015 and the Sox will be faced with another decision on a player who will be in the back-half of his career.