The Red Sox have traded their homegrown ace and impending free agent Jon Lester to the Oakland Athletics for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes according to WEEI's Alex Speier. Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan first reported that a deal was completed, though, he did not report where he was going. Jonny Gomes will also head back to Oakland as part of the deal along with some cash, and the A's are sending the Red Sox their recently won competitive balance draft pick, likely to help ease the loss of the comp pick the Red Sox would have received for giving Lester a qualifying offer this winter.
The most recent reports had the Pirates and the Cardinals as favorites to land Lester, as they attempted to sort through both a packed National League Central and NL wild card race. The Dodgers were also rumored to still be involved, with another handful of teams on the outside keeping an eye on the situation and price. The A's did not seem like an obvious fit for Lester, given they recently acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, but apparently general manager Billy Beane did not think that was enough to propel Oakland through the playoffs. Lester will be their top pitcher, and suddenly, the A's appear nigh unstoppable, or at least as unstoppable as one can be in an unpredictable game.
Cespedes will be a free agent after the 2015 season -- his contract specifically states he cannot be offered arbitration when his first four years in the majors are up -- but he gives the Red Sox middle-of-the-order power in the present, and Boston absolutely has the funds to sign him to a significant free agent deal when the time comes. Cespedes is currently set to make $10.5 million next year, so even if you scale that up for free agency, it's well within the Red Sox' capabilities without venturing into the Lester territory that scared them into dealing him in the first place.
The 28-year-old outfielder has an incredible arm -- which will join Jackie Bradley Jr.'s and Shane Victorino's to form the most overpowered outfield arm trio around -- but is also a quality power hitter who has batted .262/.318/.470 for a 119 OPS+ during his three seasons with Oakland. You might not love that line, but remember, O.co is one of the friendlier pitcher parks out there, and Fenway Park is the polar opposite of that.
Gomes is an unnecessary piece on a Red Sox team that is going nowhere in 2014, as he's a free agent after the season. Cespedes is an every day outfielder anyway, so not only is the need for Gomes lessened, but he's redundant on a team that already had too many outfield pieces and for too few spots. The question now is what happens to Daniel Nava, who would likely be pushed out from the outfield picture so long as Victorino is healthy.
We might have just answered our own question there.
Lester was drafted by the Red Sox in the second round of the 2002 draft, and made his major-league debut in 2006. He was part of two World Series winning Red Sox teams, in 2007 and in 2013, and is the organization's all time leader in strikeouts as a left-hander. There is always the chance that the Red Sox could re-sign him as a free agent this winter, but if the chances were that great, it's unlikely he would have been traded at all.
Now the Red Sox will likely look to trade John Lackey, as the rumor is that the two were something of a matched set, with Lackey possibly not wanting to stick around on a Lesterless, reloading club. Lackey might bring in a significant haul as well, as he has just $500,000 coming his way in 2015 thanks to an optioned triggered by his 2011 Tommy John surgery.