Does an ace pitcher trump a middle-of-the-order everyday player?
Many Oakland fans were skeptical of a deal which took away their middle-of-the-order power hitter — Yoenis Cespedes — and the excitement he generated. A’s fans felt they had enough pitching anyway.
Just as Red Sox fans, upset with the loss of Jon Lester, will be watching Cespedes closely to evaluate whether this was a prudent swap.
Lester earned a quality start in his Oakland debut, an 8-3 win over visiting Kansas City. He went 6⅔ innings and allowed three runs on nine hits.
Meanwhile, Cespedes went 1 for 4 for the Red Sox in his debut, a 6-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on Saturday.
Cespedes singled to left in his first Red Sox at-bat in the second inning and scored on Mike Napoli’s two-run homer. Cespedes also grounded out to third in the third inning, flied out to center in the fifth, leaving two men on base, and popped to third in the seventh, leaving a runner at second base.
Francisco Cervelli reached on a bloop single to left in the fourth, and the replays showed Cespedes seemed to be playing too deep. Cespedes will play mostly in right field, but was playing left because Allen Craig, a newcomer from the Cardinals obtained in the John Lackey trade, rolled his ankle in his first game on Friday night.
The Red Sox want to take advantage of Cespedes’s defensive mobility, which they think plays better in the large right field at Fenway. It also affords the opportunity to take advantage of his cannon arm.
Cespedes doesn’t seem fazed by the trade across the country to a baseball hotbed where he’s already encountered more media and a more rabid fan base. His first game came against the Yankees, and given that Boston is so poor this season, the rivalry question never came up, because in times like these, the rivalry takes a hiatus.
In his first game as a Red Sox, Cespedes, who requires an interpreter (the Red Sox used Adrian Lorenzo, who is part of the international scouting team), said being in a Red Sox uniform “felt very comfortable. Saw a lot of nice things in the stands. I felt very comfortable here.”
Cespedes said he felt no pressure to break the ice with a base hit right away, but he was certainly happy to get that over with.
“It was nice, but I didn’t feel any pressure to get a hit in my first at-bat. I knew it would come second at-bat, third or even in a couple days,” he said.
Cespedes had an interesting at-bat against Yankees fireballer Dellin Betances in the seventh when he popped out to third base on a pitch he just missed. Betances was throwing 99-100 miles per hour.
“I’ve only faced one other pitcher who can throw 100 m.p.h. like and that was Aroldis Chapman. I faced Betances one other time this year and he wasn’t at that kind of velocity. I was hunting for the fastball but didn’t get that one,” Cespedes said.
With Craig day-to-day, Cespedes could stay in left for a couple of games, but he’ll eventually settle in right field, where he’s not played before as a major leaguer.
“I haven’t played much right field, but in my opinion a good outfielder should be able to play all three outfield positions and that’s what I’m going to do,” said Cespedes, who has played 75 games in center and 233 games in left.
And except for playing perhaps a little too deep early in the game, Cespedes wasn’t in awe of the Green Monster.
“I felt comfortable out there. It’s a little bit easier because the fence is so short so anything that goes over my head I’m gonna turn around and play it off the wall, so I feel comfortable out there,” Cespedes said.
As Cespedes spoke, Shane Victorino walked out of the Red Sox clubhouse. He’s back on the disabled list during a season where he’s been hurt more than he’s played.
The Red Sox have obviously decided to move on with the acquisition of two outfielders with Craig manning left and Cespedes right.
That could leave a center field opening for Victorino to perhaps platoon with Jackie Bradley Jr. next season or find some way to get at-bats with a rotation.
The Red Sox certainly missed Victorino’s presence at the top of the order and his Gold Glove play in right field. With one more year remaining on his contract and the outfield issues now solved, the Red Sox have to figure out what form Victorino’s last year will take.
This is also an issue for Daniel Nava. It’s hard to imagine that the Red Sox acquired Craig to platoon him with Nava in left, though on some nights when there’s a tough righthanded pitcher, Nava’s ability to hit lefthanded would be beneficial.
The Red Sox will have a few more issues too. Where does Mookie Betts play?
And if Brock Holt will still be used as a super utility player and play all over the field, that reduces Nava, Victorino, and Betts’s time even more in the outfield.
We certainly didn’t see the best of Cespedes Saturday afternoon, but there’s a long way to go. There’s a reason Oakland fans are upset. He’s flashed great power and a power arm. When he hits them they go pretty far and leave in a hurry.
Other than David Ortiz and a resurgent Mike Napoli, the Red Sox didn’t have that weapon all season.
Will Cespedes be exciting enough for people to finally say it was worth giving up Lester?
We’ll get to see the outcome of that over the next 52 games.