It was a trade deadline day like no other in recent memory, several hours of riveting stealth moves by teams intent on enhancing their prospects, not only for this season but down the road.
For baseball fans, it was a Thursday filled with “Wow, I can’t believe it” and “No way” after two of the game’s premier left-handed pitchers – Jon Lester and David Price – now find themselves with new addresses after being involved in two separate blockbusting deals.
The Boston Red Sox, last year’s World Series champions, continued to tear their roster asunder, dealing Lester, their long-time ace, to the Oakland Athletics for slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
Outfielder Jonny Gomes will accompany Lester to Oakland, where he played in 2012, along with some cash, according to reports. The Red Sox will also receive a draft pick in return.
Lester, a left-hander, is only 30 and at the height of his powers. He is 10-7 this year with a 2.52 earned-run average in 21 starts.
His 149 strikeouts are sixth in the American League.
He will join a powerful Oakland outfit that already possesses the best record in baseball and will now shoot to the top of everybody’s list as the leading World Series contender.
Oakland general manager Billy (Moneyball) Beane also strengthened the A’s depth in the outfield, acquiring Sam Fuld from the Minnesota Twins for left-hander Tommy Milone.
With Lester’s departure, all eyes of the baseball world shifted to the Tampa Bay Rays, who possessed Price, their 28-year-old supernova considered the other big trade-day prize.
Price, who can become a free agent at the end of the season, was far too valuable a commodity for the small-market Rays to be able to hang on to, especially with their playoff hopes in the America League East hanging by a thread.
The hours passed with no word – and then, about 15 minutes before the 4 p.m. (ET) deadline arrived, word started to leak out that Price was being dealt to the Detroit Tigers.
And what a stunner it was, with the Tigers, who already have one of the best rotations around, securing Price in a three-team deal that also included the Seattle Mariners.
But Price came with a price as the Tigers had to give up Austin Jackson, their speedy centre fielder, to the Mariners while shipping out left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly to the Rays.
The Rays also got infielder Nick Franklin from the Mariners.
Detroit also had to send Class-A prospect Willy Adames to Tampa as part of the deal.
For the Tigers, who are comfortably in first place in the AL Central, the new addition now gives them a rotation that includes the past three AL Cy Young Award winners in Max Scherzer (2013), Price (2012) and Justin Verlander (2011).
The Blue Jays, who played the first of a four-game set Thursday night in Houston against the Astros, decided to sit this trade deadline day out.
Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos said he kicked plenty of tires, but the asking price was always too rich for his liking.
“I guess I would say we were definitely very active, but the prices for us on the players we inquired about, generally speaking, I think everybody would be happy we didn’t do those deals,” Anthopoulos said on a conference call. “I know everyone would like to make a splash, add players, but to add players just to make the team worse, just to say you did something, wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense for us.”
The Red Sox were by no means finished after they dealt Lester.
They also sent No. 2 starter John Lackey, cash considerations and minor-league left-handed pitcher Corey Littrell to the St. Louis Cardinals in another shocking swap.
In return, the Red Sox are getting outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig and righty starter Joe Kelly.
Kelly started Game 3 of last year’s World Series against the Red Sox while Craig, who has struggled at the plate this season, has had plenty of pop in previous years.
Lackey, who was signed by the Red Sox to a five-year, $82.5-million free-agent deal after the 2009 season, is 11-7 with the Red Sox this season, with a 6.41 ERA.
The Red Sox also sent highly regarded reliever Andrew Miller to the Baltimore Orioles – the team the Blue Jays are trying to chase down in the AL East – for pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez.
And finally, the Red Sox sent shortstop Stephen Drew to division rival New York Yankees in return for Kelly Johnson, the one-time Blue Jays who is on the disabled list.
The Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers got together, with the Brewers getting outfielder Gerardo Parra in exchange for outfield prospect Mitch Haniger and left-handed pitcher Anthony Banda.
The Mariners also were not done, getting outfielder Chris Denorfia from the San Diego Padres. In return, the Mariners surrendered outfielder Abraham Almonte and reliever Stephen Kohlscheen.
The Washington Nationals grabbed shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for shortstop Zach Walters.
In Atlanta, the Braves picked up left-hander James Russell and utility player Emilio Bonifacio from the Chicago Cubs for catching prospect Victor Caratini.
And the Florida Marlins also got into the act, getting right-hander Jarred Cosart, infielder Enrique Hernandez and outfielder Austin Wates in return for outfielder Jake Marisnick, infielder Colin Moran, right-hander Frances Martes and a draft pick.
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