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A’s general manager Billy Beane considered lefty Jon Lester too unique of a talent to not grab.
That alone, Beane said, was the motivation for sending All-Star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes, a Thursday morning trade that sent shock waves around the majors just hours before the trade deadline.
Too much of a good thing? Apparently, there’s no such thing when it comes to starting pitching in the A’s world. So while it raised eyebrows that Oakland dealt for Lester just weeks after acquiring starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs, Beane saw it as a worthy gamble to part with Cespedes and the detrimental effect it might have on the A’s offense.
“(Available) players like this really don’t come along too often,” Beane said of Lester. “The guy who has the most control over a game is the starting pitcher. I look at Sonny Gray as an All-Star. It’s essentially an All-Star rotation, with Jeff, Scott (Kazmir), and Jon at the top.”
And what about a fifth starter through the final two months of the regular season? The A’s won’t announce until Friday who remains in the rotation between Hammel and Jesse Chavez. But Beane insisted that Hammel’s struggles since coming over from Chicago had no bearing on going after Lester.
He also expressed optimism that Hammel can turn things around from his 0-4 record and 9.53 ERA since joining Oakland.
“The stuff is still good,” Beane said. “Certainly his location (hasn’t been).”
But reading between the lines, it sounds as if Hammel will be the guy to stick as a starter over Chavez, who was an effective reliever in 2013.
There’s no doubt that losing Cespedes is a setback offensively. He was hitting just .256 but had 17 homers and 67 RBI. He’s an electric talent who also is tied for the major league lead with 12 outfield assists, and it can’t go forgotten that he hit .350 over the past two postseasons.
[RELATED: A's land Lester, send Cespedes to Red Sox]
But Beane reasons that by bolstering the starting staff with a guy like the 30-year-old Lester – a three-time All-Star who helped lead the Red Sox to two World Series titles – it can help make up for some of that lost production at the plate. The A’s entered Thursday leading the majors in runs, and when they’re clicking, they get production from several sources up and down the batting order.
And they still have Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss anchoring the middle of the lineup. Both rank in the top seven of the American League in both homers and RBI.
It’s clear the A’s feel that in Lester, they have the legit No. 1 starter that they may have lacked even after acquiring Samardzija, and even with Gray and Kazmir both sitting with 12 victories and sub-3.00 ERAs.
“If you're gonna separate yourself to get a player like Lester, you have to do something unique,” Beane said of dealing Cespedes. “… In this division, we face Felix Hernandez. When you can acquire a guy at that level (in Lester), you do what you can to get it done.”
And though looking ahead to the postseason is a taboo subject among A’s officials, or at least discussing it publicly is, Lester has the talent and the postseason pedigree to match up with other aces of contending teams.
Whether it all adds up and helps the A’s to a third consecutive A.L. West title, and beyond, remains to be seen. They lead the division by two games over the Angels, who beat the Orioles 1-0 in 13 innings on Thursday night. But for a franchise that’s featured some star-studded rotations through its glory periods, a case can be made for the A’s current staff as being the best in the majors, on paper at least.
“It has different looks too,” Beane said. “If you look at the top four guys, yo’ve got two left-handers, and different styles. It matches up pretty well.”
Beane values Gomes, a contributing member of the 2012 division-winning A’s, as a right-handed bat who can play regularly against lefties. He mentioned Stephen Vogt as someone who can platoon with Gomes. The way the A’s mix and match, that doesn’t necessarily mean simply sharing left field. Vogt and Moss both figure to see time in left and at first base.
The A’s also viewed Sam Fuld, acquired from Minnesota for starter Tommy Milone, as necessary to hold down center field until either Coco Crisp or Craig Gentry return from injury.