The gutting of the 2013 world champion Red Sox was largely completed Thursday as they dealt ace pitchers Jon Lester and John Lackey, outfielder Jonny Gomes, reliever Andrew Miller, and shortstop Stephen Drew in four deals within a span of six hours as the 4 p.m. trading deadline neared. The Sox acquired three established big leaguers: Oakland powerball outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, St. Louis outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig, and Cardinals starting pitcher Joe Kelly.
“We’re building toward a very good team as quickly as possible,’’ Sox general manager Ben Cherington said at a 6 p.m. news conference. “This gives us a headstart going toward 2015.’’
Wow. It was a day unprecedented in Red Sox history. The dumping frenzy reminded me a little bit of Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s fire sale in 1976 when he tried to sell Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers, and Vida Blue to the Sox and Yankees (commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided the deals because they were all about cash).
What a day. What a week. What a season.
The defending world champs are firmly planted in the basement of the American League East, and in the last six days have traded three of the four pitchers who started World Series games nine months ago. Five of the six Sox starting pitchers from 2013 are gone. Only Clay Buchholz remains.
The Fenway fire sale started last weekend when Jake Peavy was dealt to the Giants. Felix Doubront was dumped (Cubs) Wednesday, but the big deals unfolded on deadline day.
Just before 10 a.m. news broke that Lester was going to the A’s along with Gomes in exchange for Oakland’s cleanup hitter, two-time Home Run Derby champ Cespedes. Less than three hours later, Lackey was off to St. Louis for Craig and Kelly. Andrew Miller was next, dealt to Baltimore for minor league lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez.
Finally, just before the deadline, Drew was shipped to the Yankees, who are at Fenway Friday night.
“There’s nothing celebratory about this,’’ admitted Cherington. “These moves were made because we haven’t performed well enough.’’
What does it all mean?
It’s hard to connect all the diamond dots. It’s hard to figure out what the Sox are planning for 2015 and beyond. No doubt there are other moves ahead. Sox fans had better hope there will be some money spent on pitching help during the offseason.
Here’s what bothers me:
Money. The one conclusion we can draw from all this is that the Sox are intent on not overpaying older players. No more long-term deals.
The good news is that the Sox are getting immediate help for 2015. Thursday’s flurry was not about prospects. Cespedes is a cleanup hitter for a first-place team. He is 28. He has hit 43 homers since the start of last season. He has a cannon for an arm (the bad news is that his OBP since the start of 2013 is only .298 and he’s been slumping lately. The A’s rarely trade a good player). He’s only under contract for one more season. The Sox will watch him and see how they like him. Think Adrian Beltre.
Craig and Kelly are also established big leaguers. Craig is 30 and has seven homers and 44 RBIs this year. He is working on a five-year, $31 million contract. He is a righthanded bat who could play left in Fenway while Cespedes could move to right. Kelly is having an uneven season but is a 26-year-old big leaguer who won’t be a free agent for five seasons. Perfect. Medium money. Contract control.
Thursday’s “everything must go” closeout sale loudly demonstrates the new philosophy of ownership and baseball ops. The Sox are not going to get tangled in any more long-term, hundred million-dollar contracts.
From where I’m sitting, it looks like the bottom line is . . . The Bottom Line.
The Sox used to be the team that would acquire your best players because you wouldn’t pay them. That’s how they got Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke, Josh Beckett, and Mike Lowell. Now the Sox are the team that won’t pay to keep its best pitcher. They are the team that will take on veteran talent for short years. Do James Shields and Cole Hamels somehow fit into that category? Doubt it.
Lester was traded because philosophically John Henry has decided “nevermore” when it comes to five- and six-year contracts for players over 30. The Sox brass was emotionally damaged by the huge contracts lavished on Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez. Henry doesn’t want to be spending $25 million per season in the fifth and sixth years of Lester’s next contract. This is odd given that Lester would only be 36 in the fifth year of a prospective six-year deal and Lackey had a 3.60 ERA at the age of 36 this season.
Lester packed his stuff and left Fenway late in the morning. Henry and Lester engaged in an awkward farewell hug in the players’ parking lot.
Can we please cease with crazy speculation that Lester will come back to Boston? There’s no larger plan that would have the Sox revisiting the Lester negotiations this winter and bringing their favorite southpaw back to Fenway. What magic! They would get Lester and Cespedes all in the same double-deal. If you believe that, I would love to sell you the deed to the Arthur Fieldler Footbridge. The Sox are out on Lester. If they wanted in on Lester, they’d have re-signed him when they had the chance.
The Sox won’t do it anymore. They think the Dodgers, Yankees, Angels, and Tigers are stupid. They will not engage in such stupidity.
Swell. But Sox fans paying the highest ticket prices in baseball have to ask themselves if they are OK supporting a team that will not compete for the services of its best pitcher.
No more superstars in Boston. No more superstar contracts. It’s all about younger players and club control. Welcome to Kansas City-on-the-Charles.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington on Thursday’s trades
■email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dan_shaughnessy.