Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 31, 2014

From All In To All Done

For fans in some cities, it’s Christmas in July; while followers of other franchises are spending the final evening of the month drowning their sorrows. The Great Game’s annual non-waiver trading deadline has passed. It’s that decisive moment that serves as a hinge point in every season, arriving with every squad having 55 or so games to play. Serious contenders try to add the one or two roster pieces that will push them deep into October. Teams at the bottom of the standings, as well as low-budget franchises with young stars approaching the big payday of free agency, look to trade big hitters and proven moundsmen for prospects and the eternal promise of better times in some future year. While the only certainty is that the real value of every deal made at the trading deadline will not truly be known for some time, it’s easy on the last day of July to figure out how every general manager views his team’s place in baseball’s pecking order.

In Oakland Billy Beane has gone all in. Perhaps the most famous general manager in the sport thanks to the best-selling book and subsequent Brad Pitt headlined movie celebrating the wonders of Moneyball, Beane has by many measures had great success as the A’s GM since the 1998 season. This year Oakland has the best record in the game, an eighth playoff appearance since 2000 seemingly assured. But the constraints of the tight Oakland budget have meant that the A’s reach has always exceeded their grasp. In all those trips to the magical land of October baseball, only once has Beane’s team managed to move beyond the Division Series. That was in 2006, when the A’s swept the Twins in the ALDS only to be swept in turn by the Tigers in the League Championship Series.

After losing two starting pitchers to Tommy John surgery during spring training, Beane patched together a rotation and watched as both Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray stepped up. They share identical 12-3 records and glittering ERAs. Early this month he traded prospects to the Cubs for Jeff Samardzjia and Jason Hammel. Thursday Oakland was involved in the first megadeal of the day when Beane acquired lefty Jon Lester from Boston. In three World Series starts in 2007 and 2013 for the Red Sox Lester posted a perfect 3-0 record and an ERA to match, just 0.43. Now he becomes the ace of what may well be the Great Game’s deepest starting rotation, and Lester has a chance to win a third ring, this time on the west coast.

A free agent at season’s end and looking for a lengthy and rich contract, Lester is almost certainly just a short-term rental for Beane and the Athletics. But with this trade and the moves he’s already made the Oakland GM appears convinced that right now is his best shot ever at advancing deep into the playoffs. Of course to do so it’s likely he’ll have to get his team past Detroit, the team that ended Oakland’s run in 2006 and that has beaten them in the ALDS the past two seasons. The Central Division leading Tigers countered with their own big move on Thursday, winning the bidding for the Rays’ David Price. The left-hander joins Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander in Detroit, putting the league’s last three Cy Young Award winners in the same rotation.

At the other end of the deadline day spectrum is Ben Cherington. The general manager of the Boston Red Sox has watched as the team that was so magical in 2013 has been so miserable this year. Boston is 12 games under .500, playing at a 90-loss pace with a record better than just two other AL franchises. Eight wins in nine games on either side of the All-Star break briefly kindled hope in the hearts of Boston’s fans. But since then the Red Sox have exactly reversed that string, losing eight of nine.

On Thursday Cherington officially threw in the towel. Having already shipped pitchers Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to the Giants and Cubs respectively in the past few days, at the deadline Cherington traded Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes to the A’s, veteran starter John Lackey to the Cardinals, and reliever Andrew Miller to the Orioles. Cherington even added a trade with archrival New York just before the deadline, exchanging Stephen Drew for Kelly Johnson in a trade of light-hitting infielders. It was the first trade between the Red Sox and Yankees since 1997.

Cherington tried to put the best face on things by emphasizing that he had passed up deals for packages of prospects in favor of obtaining veterans who could help turn the club around as soon as next year. The most notable acquisition was slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, the price Oakland was made to pay for Lester and Gomes. The right-handed hitting dead pull hitter has won the last two Home Run Derby spectacles during the All-Star break. He should enjoy bashing balls off and over Fenway Park’s Green Monster, and that may help to put a few fans in the seats. But the Cuban defector is not much of a pure hitter. This season he’s batting just .256 with an on-base percentage of .303. Those decidedly average numbers are both actually slight improvements from his performance in 2013.

Perhaps Red Sox fans will have reason to cheer Cherington’s moves when the calendar has turned a full cycle. Then again, by this time next year Cespedes will be on the verge of free agency, and in Boston the talk will again turn to the local team’s reluctance to offer long-term deals to 30-year old stars. That reluctance led to a breakdown in extension talks with Lester earlier this season, and now the fan favorite is set to wear a green and gold uniform on the other side of the country.

Be it Beane or Cherington or any of their 28 fellow general managers, the ultimate brilliance or idiocy of their late July moves can’t fairly be judged in these first few hours. Perhaps there will be a parade in Oakland later this year, celebrating the A’s first championship since their Earthquake Series sweep of the Giants a quarter century ago. Perhaps fans in Boston will forgive and forget the lost 2014 season when the Red Sox rise back to the top of the AL East next summer.  Or perhaps the Los Angeles Angels, the team with the second best record in baseball, will yet manage to catch Oakland, leaving the A’s entire season hanging in the balance of a single Wild Card game; while Boston joins New York as also-rans in a division dominated by new powers in Baltimore and Toronto.

All of that lies in the unknown months and years to come. For now, we only know that on the west coast hope abounds; while in New England, where forty percent of last season’s World Series roster has now departed, the magical run of 2013 suddenly seems so long ago and far away.

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Responses

  1. I love to see all the big trades going on, and all the high-quality players being dealt. As a Mets fan, I can only say that it would be nice to have an imaginative, creative G.M. who would go out and make something happen.
    Very nice summation of the deals.
    -Bill

    • Yes it’s always an interesting day, even if the actual impact on the season is sometimes less than the hype. As for the Mets, there was a story in today’s NY Times in which Sandy Alderson says he is “happy with the team that we have.” He then went on to promise more activity this winter, saying “we don’t want to limit ourselves to the options that are available now.” Promises, promises. Meanwhile the mood of Red Sox Nation was summed up by the large two word headline on the front page of this morning’s Boston Globe: “All Gone.” Thanks as always Bill,

      Mike

      http://www.onsportsandlife.com


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