The Final Word on Cespedes

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Cespedes is gone and his trade can now be evaluated with the benefit of hindsight.Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Hindsight is 20/20 and, unfortunately, A’s fans are in the hindsight stage of the 2014 season right now and can evaluate the Cespedes trade for what it was really worth. The last word for me; failure.

As my loyal reader will already know, I was an overwhelming fan of the trade that sent Cespedes to Boston and brought Jon Lester to the Oakland clubhouse. With a strong offense and a pitching staff that was bound to need help, it made sense for Billy Beane to cash in his biggest bargaining chip and go “all-in” to acquire one of the best pitchers in the game. Beane has noted, in interviews, that he saw a slump forming prior to the trade deadline and knew the team would need to bolster their pitching if they were going to get past the first round of playoffs in 2014.

Oakland was 8-7 (.533) in the 15 games prior to the trade deadline and had scored, on average, 5.13 runs per game. In the 15 games after the Cespedes trade, the A’s went 7-8 (.466) with a 3.73 runs per game average. Clearly, there was an immediate drop off in productivity and if you spread the time frames out to 30 days, the statistics get very depressing very quickly.

At the trade deadline, the A’s enjoyed a one game lead over the Angels in the AL West and eventually grew that lead to four games, not through dominating baseball but through appropriately timed wins. Lester was responsible for two of the wins that helped propel the A’s to the largest lead they’d had since July 8. On August 10, however, the epic collapse of the best team in baseball began and the lead they had once enjoyed for the entire season turned into an eventual second place deficit of 10 games.

I think anyone who blames the lack of offense on Cespedes being gone is crazy. La Potencia was a good player but hardly a player that carries a team with his bat. He may have been a threat in the line up but there were three other all-stars in that lineup as well. The fact of the matter is simple; the A’s were hurt. Coco Crisp had neck issues, Craig Gentry was out, John Jaso was out, Jed Lowrie was out, Brandon Moss was playing through injury, Vogt couldn’t catch, Josh Donaldson had problems with his foot, leg, knee, and hairline, and Derek Norris, for a time our only usable player, was playing through pain to the detriment of his defensive ability.

Had Cespedes remained in the lineup, would these guys suddenly be healthy?

Then there is the talk of team chemistry. I always laugh at this because the A’s dynasty of the early 1970’s hated each other’s guts. Ray Fosse makes it sound like he loved all those guys in retrospect but anybody reading a newspaper in 1974 knows that there was no joy in that locker room. In fact, they would come to blows with each other! So, needless to say, I don’t prescribe to the team chemistry argument. Sure, it makes for entertaining baseball and keeps the guys lose but they’ll play whether they like each other or not and there are dozens of teams throughout history that prove that.

Where I will allow an argument to be made is that the trade had an effect on personal chemistry. Trading Dan Straily and prospects to get Samardzija made sense and was a great move and the team appreciated it. Trading Cespedes, on the eve of his T-shirt giveaway, told the team that none of their jobs were safe. The guys weren’t pushing to make up for Cespedes’ missing bat, they were pushing so that their numbers would be trade proof. If Billy Beane was willing to trade an all-star, two time home run derby champ and, in many ways, the face of the franchise for a rental pitcher, what else was he willing to do? I believe that the concern of being traded bore more tension on individual players than it did on the locker room.

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So why, then, do I label the trade a failure? Because it didn’t work. The A’s were the first team to go home in the post season this year. We had our ace throw the worst game of his Athletics career and we lost. Billy Beane has said that without Lester, the A’s probably wouldn’t have made it to the wildcard game and that may be true, he knows much more about baseball than I do, but we didn’t get past the game we traded our greatest asset to win.

Everyone knew that Cespedes was going to be gone before 2015. With one year remaining on his contract, Billy Beane wasn’t about to let that type of trade value slip into free agency and Lew Wolff wasn’t about to loosen the purse strings enough to keep him. That’s fine. That’s baseball. Had we won on Tuesday and somehow made it all the way to the world series, this would go down as the greatest deal ever made but since we lost the game, we’ve lost twice. Billy Beane, essentially, got no value for Cespedes. We traded him for a pitcher that was going to win our biggest game of the year and he lost that game so Lester, ultimately, was worthless and our cash cow now has an apartment in Boston.

Lester had six wins during his stay in Oakland. It’s impossible to compare his stats to those of Cespedes and we can’t assume that Chavez or Pomeranz or Milone would have won those six games for the team. We also can’t assume that those pitchers we already had were going to lose the six games that Lester won or that they wouldn’t have won the games that Lester lost. That makes any true argument over the matter moot. All we can look at is this: we once had a player so valuable that we could trade him for the best pitcher in the game. That pitcher didn’t do what he was brought here to do and now we don’t have him or our most valuable, in terms of trade value, player. That, to me, makes this a worthless trade.

1,027 words later, I applaud Billy Beane for making the move. He proved that he was willing to take drastic measures to give this team, himself and the fans a huge victory. I’d rather have a GM who was aggressive and took chances than one who sat around and watched his team go through the motions and lose. But, not all good ideas work out the way you want them. On paper, we should be playing tonight. On paper we should have taken our division. On paper, Billy Beane is a genius but in real life, we’re not playing tonight, we didn’t take the division and Billy Beane took a blind gamble that ended up being a failure that he’ll be haunted by until the team does end up in the world series.

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