Red Sox Swing For Fences In Trading Jon Lester For A’s Yoenis Cespedes

Yoenis CespedesThe Boston Red Sox are swinging for the fences.

The Red Sox traded pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes to the Oakland Athletics on Thursday in exchange for power-hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The deal reflects Boston’s stated desire to contend in 2015 while also signifying the Red Sox’s unwillingness to potentially watch their ace depart for merely draft pick compensation.

The addition of Cespedes represents an attempt to fill Boston’s most glaring need. The Red Sox lack a middle-of-the-order presence, as well as organizational outfield depth, and Cespedes has the potential to immediately become a valuable right-handed complement to David Ortiz.

The 28-year-old totaled 49 home runs between 2012 and 2013 — his first two seasons in Oakland after defecting from Cuba — and has slugged 17 homers in 101 games this season despite calling the extremely pitcher-friendly O.co Coliseum his home. It’s reasonable to expect Cespedes’ power numbers — he owns a career .788 OPS in 365 games — to increase now that he’ll be playing at Fenway Park on a regular basis.

Playing left field at Fenway doesn’t require a cannon, but Cespedes has one, anyway. He’s tied with Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. for the most outfield assists in Major League Baseball this season with 12. Baserunners will want to think twice about taking an extra bag against Boston’s outfield, especially if Shane Victorino remains healthy and complements the duo in right field.

Another interesting aspect of Thursday’s blockbuster is that the Red Sox received a competitive balance draft pick — the second pick in Comp Round B — in addition to Cespedes. While the pick is slightly later than the one the Red Sox would have received this offseason as compensation if they kept Lester for the remainder of 2014 and the lefty signed elsewhere in free agency, the draft pick’s inclusion at least guarantees that Boston stands to net a long-term asset. In other words, the Red Sox really weren’t forced to decide internally whether they’d be better off obtaining Cespedes or the draft pick this offseason– if Lester walked — because they secured both pieces Thursday.

This is of particular importance because Cespedes, who signed a four-year, $36 million contract with Oakland before the 2012 season, is set to become a free agent after the 2015 season. He also has a clause in his contract that, in short, prevents him from being subjected to a qualifying offer — in turn eliminating the possibility of the Red Sox (or whoever his current club is at the time) receiving draft pick compensation if he leaves via free agency. While it’s likely the Red Sox will explore a possible extension with Cespedes, Boston can rest assured knowing that it solidified a draft pick regardless of whatever happens.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Surely, this move was made with 2015 in mind and under the presumption that there was a chance — perhaps a very good one — that Lester would not re-sign with Boston. The Red Sox wanted to acquire value while they could, and they evidently prioritized acquiring major league talent that can aid the team’s win-now philosophy.

The ideal scenario for the Red Sox would be for Lester to re-sign with Boston in free agency this offseason — something the pitcher hasn’t ruled out — and the club moving forward with its ace and some added offensive firepower. The chances of that happening, however, are unknown.

Of course, the Cespedes acquisition doesn’t come without risk. Cespedes is a free-swinger — not exactly conducive with Boston’s offensive philosophy — with a career .318 on-base percentage. And while there’s reason to believe the right-handed-hitting slugger will pepper the Green Monster, it’s worth noting that his numbers actually are better at home (.278/.344/.494, 36 home runs, 184 games) than on the road (.248/.293/.447, 30 home runs, 181 games), suggesting that one shouldn’t automatically assume leaving a pitcher’s paradise in Oakland will morph Cespedes into The Sultan of Swat.

There’s also the potential for a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking if this whole Cespedes thing doesn’t work out. He’s a sexy name, no doubt. And hey, the guy’s a back-to-back Home Run Derby champion. But if things go awry, for whatever reason, the Red Sox will be left wondering whether they should have strongly considered a package of prospects rather than a major league quantity.

General manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell have been steadfast that the Red Sox are aiming to return to World Series glory in 2015. Swapping Lester and Gomes for Cespedes backs that notion like no other trade scenario.

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