ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Jon Lester-Yoenis Cespedes swap continues to be debated. And it will be for the rest of the season and beyond.
Was the deal worth it for the Red Sox? Was it worth it for the Oakland A’s, who only have Lester under control for the rest of the season?
What is the value of an everyday power-hitting cleanup guy compared with an every-five-days pitcher? And please save your sabermetrics on this one. Use the eye-ball test instead. WAR doesn’t tell the story here.
What we know is the Red Sox have in Cespedes a 25-plus-homer, 100-RBI hitter in the middle of their order who isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season.
When baseball is relevant again in Boston next April, David Ortiz is going to be a happy man because Cespedes will continue to protect him in the lineup.
Cespedes, who drove in two runs in Friday’s 8-4 win over the Rays, giving him 89 RBIs on the season, has helped Ortiz immeasurably. Ortiz acknowledged that since Cespedes’s arrival, he’s hit much better and seen better pitches to hit. In the 20 games Ortiz has played with Cespedes, he is hitting .364 (24 for 66) with 4 doubles, 5 homers, 16, RBIs, 10 runs, and 13 walks.
Cespedes, who is 12 for 28 (.429) with nine RBIs in his last seven games, has produced three game-winning hits with the Sox, and nine times he’s put the Sox ahead. This isn’t Ortiz-Manny, but it’s the next-best thing.
“I had [Adrian] Beltre for one year, but he had a good year because they pitched around me and he benefited by that,” Ortiz said. “[Mike Napoli] did a good job last year, but they still pitched around me to get to him.”
“I’ve seen better pitches to hit [with Cespedes]. He’s a really good player and a threat. Looking forward, it’s going to be fun next year having him there for the whole year. He makes me better. He makes Nap better. He makes everybody better.”
Asked if he feels Cespedes will be a perennial 30-homer/100-RBI guy, Ortiz said, “I think he will get there. I think he’s getting there in terms of being more selective. His patience is good. His approach is good. It’s a matter of time.”
Asked to enter the Lester vs. Cespedes debate, the usually opinionated Ortiz was a little squeamish about the topic, but he did make some good points.
“What can I tell you? Everybody has a different role. You can’t really compare. Starting pitchers do their thing and everyday players do their thing. Both are good players and are going to help one way or the other,” Ortiz said.
“It was a good baseball trade . . . Even-Steven I would call it. One thing you’re gonna know is one side [Cespedes] is gonna be here, but on the other side Lester is gonna be in a shuffle somewhere else. At the end of the day we won the trade. We still have the chance to get Lester this offseason because Oakland isn’t going to be able to re-sign him.
“If you look at it that way, we won that trade. [Cespedes] made their whole lineup better and he’s made our whole lineup better. The minute he left they stopped hitting over there. One way or another, he made their lineup better and he made our lineup better. That’s a fact. If you don’t have anyone hitting well behind you, you’re not gonna hit.”
Lester is 3-2 with Oakland after taking a loss Friday night against the Angels. He has provided the A’s everything they had hoped for. But he plays every five days, while Cespedes has been sorely missed in Oakland’s lineup. Jonny Gomes, the other player shipped off by the Sox, was supposed to make up for some of the loss in run production, but he hasn’t quite held up his end of the left-field platoon. At least not yet.
Cespedes — who has 22 of the team’s 100 RBIs in the 25 games he’s played since arriving in Boston — went from a playoff team to a last-place team. But the transition has been seamless, and with Ortiz mentoring him and helping him become more selective at the plate, the move may be career-changing for Cespedes, who now gets to be the focal point of a rebuilt Red Sox offense.
“I’m glad he’s here right now because he can get adapted to this lineup and this team and feel there’s hope that we’re gonna be good again,” Ortiz said. “I tell him, hey, we rebuilt this team in less than a year and went from last to first and we can go from last to first again with his help and the hitters we have in this lineup.
“I talk to him a lot and he’s a good kid who really wants to help this team win. He gets it. He’s a good teammate. He doesn’t feel like he knows it all and he’s always willing to learn something. That’s why I think he’s going to be a 30-100 guy for a long time. He’s a powerful guy. He’s not someone pitchers like to see coming up to the plate. He’s the kind of hitter that can win games with one swing and he’s been doing that for us. I think he’s gonna work out great here.”
The true measure of Cespedes’s impact will come next season. These games don’t mean anything for the Red Sox. The pressure is off. Lester is playing in pressure-packed situations for the A’s.
Cespedes hopes to be doing the same next season at this time. Either way, Cespedes has made what was a weak Red Sox lineup into one that could be reckoned with when it counts next season.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.