Ben Cherington took a glance at the free agent list and realized that relying on free agency to revamp the Red Sox’ offense was risky and uninspiring.
Nelson Cruz would have been nice, but he’s 34 and it appears the Orioles want to re-sign him. Nick Markakis and Melky Cabrera are good players, but there would be competition for them and no guarantee the Red Sox would get them.
So the Red Sox used their pitching resources and flipped Jon Lester and John Lackey to Oakland and St. Louis, respectively, for righthanded boppers Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig, and also received 26-year-old righthander Joe Kelly from the Cardinals.
The Red Sox now have firepower in the form of righthanded hitting in the middle of the order with Mike Napoli, Craig, and Cespedes. Will Middlebrooks will return to the lineup Friday night against the Yankees, and he too can provide righthanded power.
The Red Sox may even be too righthanded, as Xander Bogaerts goes back to shortstop. He will give the Red Sox a good glimpse over the next two months whether he can be their long-term answer or whether the team will engage in a Devin Marrero/Bogaerts debate in spring training, with Marrero now playing well at Pawtucket and a much better defensive shortstop.
Cherington is right to think that it will be easier to replace the pitchers than it would have been to revamp the offense. Having dealt with the offense, his job now will be to bring in two starting pitchers through trade or free agency armed with a lot of prospect pitchers and positional players, as well as financial resources as a result of getting rid of big contracts and not re-upping those high-priced players.
While there’s still a possibility of a Red Sox-Lester reunion, the team was frustrated in its attempts to get the Lester side to engage in negotiations at the All-Star break and never received a counter to their four-year, $70 million starting offer.
Cherington already has reached out to the Phillies about what it would take to get lefthander Cole Hamels. Cliff Lee could be a target as well, as he wasn’t moved at the trading deadline. Because Boston has one of the worst records it will get close to first dibs on Lee if he should be placed on waivers.
James Shields, Justin Masterson, and Ervin Santana could be possible targets. Are they Lester? Of course not. But if Clay Buchholz steps up, that would go a long way. And if one or two of the young pitchers emerge, the Red Sox will have a deeper staff.
The Red Sox have been in last place two of the last three years with Lester and Lackey. They won a championship with them, as well.
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It goes to show, offense does matter. You’ve got to have some of it. You’ve got to be able to win games with one swing of the bat. The Red Sox seem to have more of that now.
The issue with Cespedes is going to be where does he go long term? The Red Sox have him for the rest of this season, and next at $10.5 million. If he puts up monster numbers at Fenway, which he should, he will likely ask for the moon. The Red Sox might give it to him because he’s that talented. But they have a year to see how it works.
The Red Sox plan to move Cespedes to right field so they can play him in the more expansive part of the ballpark, while Craig will play primarily left field. It appears Jackie Bradley Jr. and Shane Victorino will have to scrap for playing time. A Bradley/Victorino platoon in center wouldn’t be out of the question.
Cespedes brings a slugger’s mentality to the plate. He swings hard. A’s manager Bob Melvin told me that Cespedes needs to be more selective at the plate, see more pitches. Melvin said that once he puts it all together he could become an MVP candidate.
A’s fans seemed up in arms that GM Billy Beane traded Cespedes for Lester, the fans feeling the A’s already had enough pitching to go all the way.
Cespedes, who has averaged 25 home runs per 600 plate appearances, has embraced the move, looking forward to playing with David Ortiz, and also saying he enjoyed playing for John Farrell at the All-Star Game.
Fenway Park should help ramp up his power numbers. He also will be able to target the wall rather than the large outfield in Oakland.
Cespedes hit .350 (14 for 40) in the 2012 and 2013 playoffs, while the rest of the A’s lineup hit .185 with 18 RBIs and 22 runs.
“Clearly offense has been an issue all year. Everyone knows that,” said Cherington. “We knew that was going to have to improve no matter what and in different ways before next year.
“We think [Cespedes will] thrive [at Fenway Park]. He’s someone who obviously seems comfortable on the stage, given his performance in different events and the postseason, and is a really powerful, dynamic player in his prime. He’s someone clearly we didn’t have. That was appealing to us. We’ve got to get to know him a little bit more, he’s got to get to know us. He does a lot of different things well and is certainly the type of guy we could envision wanting to have here longer.”
Former Reds and Nationals GM Jim Bowden, who does a great job rating GMs for ESPN, gave Cherington an A for his day.
“To add 25-30-home run power and a fantastic overall talent in Cespedes is a tremendous pickup for Lester,” Bowden said. “Then to turn around and add an Allen Craig, who goes the other way as well as any hitter in baseball and who I have no doubt will go back to being the hitter a couple of years ago, that’s amazing.
“To put what he did into context, how many hitters went in trades? Most of the hitters who were supposed to be traded weren’t.”
Bowden agreed with Cherington that it will be easier to replace pitching than it would have to acquire hitting this offseason.
Re-sign Koji Uehara, then revamp the bullpen a bit and add two starting pitchers, and Cherington could very well pull off what he did in 2013. Bowden, a Massachusetts native, thinks Cherington may even be able to lure Lester back to Boston.
All of Boston’s time, effort, and resources will now go toward acquiring pitching help. After 2012, Cherington added Ryan Dempster, who filled a back-of-the-rotation role, and Uehara, and we know that story.
This task is a little bit more daunting. You have to replace an elite lefthanded starter and a top No. 2.
But Thursday, Cherington took a big step in revamping Boston’s woeful offense.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.