Today was one of the toughest days I’ve experienced as a sports fan. It wasn’t that today’s fire sale was unexpected at this point – I wasn’t blindsided by any means. And it wasn’t that I was upset with the overall return from the various trades. Today was about losing role models and people I’ve looked up to for years. It reinforced the notion that being a fan is as much about forming relationships with the players as it is about merely rooting for a group of individuals. Much like when the Celtics traded away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, I felt a tremendous personal loss seeing players that will define certain parts of my life go.
I’ll proceed chronologically with my reaction to the trades. Early this morning came the news that Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes were traded to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes. From a baseball standpoint, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that Cespedes was coming to Boston. He is exactly the type of player this team was missing- a right-handed hitting outfielder with a lot of pop who can provide excitement day in and day out. There aren’t many players that are objectively exciting in baseball, but Cespedes is one of that rare breed. And while he becomes a free agent after the 2015 season, he does have a favorable contract until then. He’s not your typical Red Sox player with a high on-base percentage, but I think the fans will love him for his power bat and his rifle of a throw from the outfield.
If the Red Sox weren’t going to re-sign Jon Lester, which I think is a mistake, it was the right move trading him now, as the value of Cespedes and the conditional draft pick received surpassed the value of the compensatory pick they would have gotten had he signed elsewhere. Cespedes’s arrival also signals the intent to compete next year, rather than waiting on any prospects to develop over time. With him only committed through next year, it will force the Red Sox to reload this offseason. And I think that’s a good thing.
For the A’s, this trade puts them in a great position for October. They get one of the best postseason pitchers ever in Lester to join an already loaded rotation, and they add a veteran presence in Gomes who is simply a winner. Whether he plays five times a week or five times a month, Gomes will be ready to produce in October, and he’ll be a spark in the clubhouse.
But as much sense as this trade made given the circumstances, I am still devastated to see two of my favorite Red Sox ever traded. I’ll expand on this in another post soon, but Lester and Gomes meant a whole lot to me. I watched Lester grow on the mound as I grew up as a person, and he will always be an inspiration to me. I can tell you exactly where I was when he announced that he had cancer, and I remember being near to tears. But I can also remember where I was when he returned to the mound triumphantly the next year in Cleveland. And I will never forget being at Fenway for his no-hitter the next year. That will always be my favorite Fenway memory. He was a hero, a role model and a true champion.
And then there’s Gomes. For all of last year, Gomes lived just a few houses from me. He was a connection to the team like I hadn’t had before. And of course he also did wonders for the team and the city during last season’s April hardships. In many ways, although he just played here for a season and a half, Gomes was the ultimate Red Sox. I’ll miss his wild style dearly. I am glad these two are going to Oakland, because I will have no problem rooting for the A’s. Wherever Lester and Gomes go from here, be it a return to Boston or a move anywhere else, I will be their biggest fan.
Before I had begun to get over my sadness about the first trade, John Lackey was traded to the Cardinals for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. I am not sure about this one, but I do think it could have its long term benefits. Craig would seem to have no place on the field at this particular moment, and unless Mike Napoli goes anywhere on a waiver deal, I don’t see how Craig will find his stroke this year if he’s on the bench. And even next year, where would he play? He’s a standout hitter when he’s going well, but I’m not sure how he fits into the Red Sox’s puzzle. But I like that Kelly is coming to Boston. If Lackey and Lester are gone, there needed to be someone with some level of experience and talent on the roster not named Clay Buchholz. Kelly has had a down year, but he has a great sinker and pitched quite well against us in the World Series last year. He’s one to watch in the coming years.
While I always thought Lackey would retire rather than playing for the league minimum next year, it appears he will honor that with the Cardinals. It’s incredible how quickly Lackey turned his image around in Boston. Two years ago, everyone would have given him away for nothing. That the Red Sox were able to help turn his career back around to even get this kind of deal in return is remarkable. But if he would have played next year for only 500K, I don’t quite understand why the Red Sox didn’t want to keep him around. He’s a solid number two at this point of his career, and I think he would have had a valuable place on next year’s team. But I guess this was a deal made for beyond 2015, when Kelly should be better than Lackey.
I never thought I’d say this, but I’m really going to miss Lackey. He was a work horse on the mound and a true professional in his approach to pitching. He leaves a winner, and he’ll always be remembered around these parts for winning the final game of the World Series. Best wishes in St. Louis, Lack.
Then there was the Andrew Miller trade to the Orioles for 21 year old pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez. This trade didn’t feel nearly as significant as the previous two, but even so, the Red Sox lost a true star in the bullpen. I’m sure many in the organization will be disappointed they couldn’t receive a better prospect in return, but this is still a good deal considering he will be a free agent this winter. Rodriguez has struggled this year, but he’s still only 21, and quite recently the Orioles rated him very highly. I’m sure we’ll learn more about him soon, but he sounds like he could be decent in a few years.
Miller was never flashy on the mound, but he was always there to get the job done. And when things didn’t go his way, he handled everything expertly, never one to give up on himself or his teammates. He had the stuff of a top of the line starter, but never complained about having to be the 7th inning man. I met Miller at a dinner back in early 2013 and he made a positive impression on me. I hope the Red Sox make a serious effort to bring him back this winter, because he’s a real winner. The Orioles will benefit greatly from his presence in their bullpen.
And lastly, there was the news that Stephen Drew was traded to the Yankees for Kelly Johnson. I doubt Johnson will ever get much of a shot in Boston, but this trade was clearly made to get Xander Bogaerts back to shortstop. It also opens a spot back up for Will Middlebrooks, who could really use a morale boost after a tough year and a half of baseball. Giving Drew away right now makes a lot of sense baseball wise, and it’s not like we’re competing directly with the Yankees the rest of the way.
I’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll say it again. I really liked Stephen Drew. Boston fans never gave him a chance this year, and I felt his defense never got the praise it deserved. Stephen wasn’t J.D. by any means, but fans here weren’t going to see that. Stephen cared a lot, and like it or not, he was the starting shortstop on our championship team. He wasn’t great at the plate in his time here, but he contributed elsewhere, and was a model professional. Re-signing Drew in May wasn’t the best move in hindsight, but he shouldn’t be blamed. Blame the Red Sox management. If Drew gets booed tomorrow when he plays for the Yankees, I will be extremely disappointed. Count me as one who appreciated all he did here.
I would imagine the roster movement won’t stop here. More players will be designated for assignment in the coming days, and we’ll see a dramatically different Red Sox lineup the rest of the way. It won’t be pretty, but signs point to a renewal for next season. Overall, I think we are in good shape if and only if management is willing to commit money to a front-line starter in free agency this winter (I’m still holding out the faintest of hopes that they have a plan to re-sign Lester). But for now, let’s all take a few days to appreciate what this group of players did for the team and for all of us. Lester, Gomes, Lackey, Miller and Drew all leave Boston as World Series winners. They leave behind amazing memories that I’ll cherish as long as I live. In sixty years, I’ll be telling my grandkids stories about the 2013 Sox, about my crazy neighbor and about the player who beat cancer. And while it was an incredibly sad day, it might not be all bad.