Outside of the beginning of the free agency period, the MLB trade deadline is probably the most exciting time of the year for me. Usually, I get excited about the players the Rangers could potentially receive. This year, however, is a bit different since the Rangers are, for all intents and purposes, out of contention.
The Rangers are trying to send off outfielder Alex Rios and relief pitcher Neal Cotts, both of whom are being sought after heavily. Clearly, they will be going to clubs that are in contention, so Ranger fans can expect to receive prospects in return rather than major league-ready talent. So get ready to say goodbye to probably at least two more current Rangers before day's end.
However, what interests me the most so far today is the acquisition of Jon Lester by the Oakland A's. The reason this trade was so shocking is because it is so far outside what many consider to be Billy Beane's "comfort zone," which is to restock his team from within. By acquiring players who will be free agents at the end of this season or next, he is clearly abandoning that model of operation. Lester, 30, will be a free agent at the end of this season. He recently said that he would not be opposed to re-signing with Boston if he were traded, though he turned down a 4-year, $70 million contract with the Sox. This tells us that Lester understands the business of baseball (he isn't closing any doors) and he intends on signing where the money is the greatest. There may be some other considerations, but like Cliff Lee after the 2010 season, cash is king is Lester's eyes.
This deal goes beyond the here and now, however. Sure, language in Cespedes's contract stipulated that he not be extended a qualifying offer after the 2015 season (meaning he is only under complete club control through the 2015 season). But at least Boston will have him for that season. With Lester, the A's get him for a month and a half (essentially) and if he signs elsewhere during the offseason, they get absolutely no compensation for losing him. He is the very definition of "rental player."
But the A's problem goes beyond Jon Lester. Earlier this month, the team acquired Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for top prospect Addison Russell (and a few other prospects). With the addition of Lester, it seems that Hammel may be traded (he was under-performing with the A's, so the loss won't really be felt). But Samardzija is an interesting piece to look at (get your mind out of the gutter). He is under club control through the 2015 season, though he can request arbitration after this season. Samardzija is on record as saying he wants the biggest contract possible as a means to help other players. This means that he will likely be looking for a top dollar arbitration figure and, once free agency begins, a $100 million+ contract. Will he get it? I would say probably not, but there always seems to be one GM out there that goes off the deep end. So here again is the problem: what did Oakland sacrifice in order to get Samardzija for a relatively short term and what will they have to show for it? Well, it's simple: they gave up one of the league's top prospects, and the will likely have nothing to show for it after the 2015 season.
Again, all of this is dependent on the idea that Billy Beane will fall back into that comfort zone and refrain from doling out huge contracts to free agent players. Perhaps this is a new Beane we are seeing, one in which winning at any cost is an acceptable mentality. If so, then it isn't hard to believe that one of these pitchers (my money would be on Samardzija) ends up staying in Oakland.
Regardless of the future implications, one thing is very clear: Billy Beane believes that his squad has a very distinct opportunity to win the World Series this year, and he is going all-in to make sure he gives them every opportunity to do so. Whether or not this will push the team back a step or two in the immediate future is, well.....yet to be seen.