This was a mammoth swap of big league talent that gives the A's an all-world rotation (Lester, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel) that could own October. And Boston, rather than add a young bat to its system, grabbed an All-Star outfielder and two-time Home Run Derby champion to dismiss any talk of a 2015 rebuild.
We asked our MLB.com analysts for their opinion on who "won" this titanic trade.
Anthony Castrovince: The biggest winner here, unquestionably, is Lester, who not only joins the team with baseball's best record and gets a shot at another World Series ring, but he also ensures he won't be tied to Draft pick compensation this winter. We've seen how much that impeded the markets for Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana last winter, and now, for Lester (who might very well wind up back in Boston), it's a non-issue. But as far as which team came out on top here, I think it's a win-win that could benefit Boston most. Power bats are increasingly rare currency in this climate, so Cespedes, while imperfect, is a big get. The Red Sox also just sent a message to their fan base that they're making an earnest attempt to contend in 2015 (Cespedes' last season before free agency) and that helps soothe some of the sting of parting with the popular Lester -- a message further hammered home with the acquisitions of Allen Craig and Joe Kelly for John Lackey. The value of the Competitive Balance pick added in the Lester trade should also not be underestimated. All that said, good on A's general manager Billy Beane for focusing on the here and now with his dealings this month. In this era of hyper-prospect awareness, you simply don't see this kind of bold bidding very often, especially from a team with such strict financial constructs.
Paul Hagen: There's an old saying in baseball that trades can't be judged as soon as they're made, that only after all the plotlines have played out can a sound judgment be made. In the short term, the Athletics clearly won the deal that brought Lester from the Red Sox in exchange for Cespedes. Oakland is now the clear favorite to win the American League pennant and go to the World Series for the first time since 1990. It's unlikely, however, that they'll be able to retain Lester after the season. In fact, the Red Sox are probably better positioned to bring Lester back than the Athletics are to keep him. Plus, Boston controls Cespedes' contract through the 2015 season. Beane did exactly the right thing by going for it now. But it's also worth noting that the 2011 Phillies had three starting pitchers who finished in the top of the National League Cy Young Award voting and were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. There are no guarantees, but both teams accomplished their objectives. If Oakland makes the World Series, whatever happens next won't really matter. Ultimately, though, this figures to help the Red Sox more beginning next season.
Richard Justice: I think everybody wins. But it begins with the A's. Lester gives Oakland a big-time, top-of-the-rotation guy who has been at his best when the stakes are the highest and the lights the brightest. He has a 2.11 ERA in 11 postseason starts (13 appearances) and an 0.43 ERA in three World Series starts. There are no guarantees, but to go into the postseason with Lester, Gray, Samardzija and Kazmir puts the A's in a great spot. Oakland had concerns about how many innings Gray and Kazmir could handle. Now the A's have two veteran guys to ease that. They'll miss Cespedes in the middle of the lineup, but Beane believes that dominant pitching wins in October. The A's are dominant. The Red Sox weren't going to trade Lester without getting power. That's the thing missing from their 2015 blueprint, and there's almost none available in free agency. Cespedes may have 40 doubles and 40 homers next season at Fenway, and he'll bang a couple off the Monster, and Red Sox Nation will love him.
Tracy Ringolsby: Beane is the winner, because he's shown that he is committed to winning. The A's haven't won a World Series since 1989. Under Beane, the A's have made the postseason six times, but they've advanced past the first round only once (2006). Beane is trying to live down the one-trick-pony image created by Moneyball. Beane has seen his team shut down in the postseason, and he's intent on winning the arms race in October. He made the deal for Samardzjia and hoped that Hammel, who came in that same trade with the Cubs, could find consistency to take advantage of his plus-stuff. Four weeks later, Beane knew he needed anther starter, and not only did he find one in Lester, but he found one with postseason success on his resume and Beane now has a rotation in which Samardzjia is the No. 4 guy. Yes, he gave up Cespedes, but Beane also knew he only had one more year of Cespedes. The deal Cespedes signed allows him to become an unrestricted free agent if the Red Sox don't re-sign him by Oct. 31, 2015, or five days after the last game Boston plays that season. Besides, if you're betting the ranch on pitching, you better make sure your defensive players are fundamentally sound.
Phil Rogers: Lester may help the A's win the World Series. May, not will. If that happens, then the A's will also win the blockbuster trade that sent Lester to Oakland. But you can count on Cespedes being in the Red Sox's lineup for another six or seven years. That's a given, even if the Cuban center fielder is signed only through 2015. Because of that, the Red Sox get the knee-jerk edge in the trade. Yes, there were other pieces involved. But there's no reason to complicate an evaluation of the trade -- it's Lester for Cespedes, an old-style All-Star-for-All-Star-type swap. Beane is gambling he can replace Cespedes' bat with all-around outfield play this October. That's a good bet in the short term, given the options (including Gomes and Sam Fuld, whom he also acquired Thursday from the Twins). But the better bet is that Cespedes will give Boston a badly needed core piece with shelf life that extends beyond David Ortiz. In return, the Red Sox will make him an extension offer they never made Lester -- one to which he cannot say no.
Lyle Spencer: Long term, I love this deal for the Red Sox, who also scored in the Lackey deal, getting Craig and Kelly. Cespedes is a big-time talent -- power, speed, arm -- in his prime. He had a big postseason vs. Detroit last year (.381/.409/.667), showing he liked the pressure. The A's didn't beat the Tigers because they couldn't score against Justin Verlander. You have to love the A's rotation of Lester, Gray, Kazmir and Samardzija, and it could carry them to a championship. But you never know. The A's fell short with other superb rotations and the best trio ever (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz) won one World Series in all those years in Atlanta. Gomes, a great teammate, is a .143 postseason hitter.