Jon Lester

READY TO TRADE: Red Sox and Diamonbacks Agree On Miley Deal

miley

The Boston Red Sox knew it would not replace their former ace Jon Lester, but they acquired a serviceable pitcher Wednesday night when they and the Arizona Diamondbacks agreed on a deal to send Wade Miley to the Old Town Team.

According to FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal, the cost were pitchers Alan Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, and a minor leaguer. The 28-year old Miley has been a regular in the Diamondbacks rotation for the last three seasons, with 33 starts and over 200 innings pitch in each of the last two seasons.

The left-hander finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2012 after he won 16 games and posted a career best 3.33 ERA. The former first round pick (43rd overall) in the 2008 MLB Amateur draft, is coming off his worst season in the Majors. His ERA rose nearly 80 points from the prior year to .434 and he had a career worst WHIP, highest walks per nine innings pitched, and home runs allowed.

De La Rosa and Webster both got a shot at the Red Sox rotation in 2014, with mixed results. Webster was acquired from the LA Dodgers in the massive 2012 post-deadline deal that sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Nick Punto to LA. De La Rosa was acquired in October as one of the two players to be named later in the deal.

De La Rosa was solid through most of his 18 starts for Boston until he worn down in the final month of the season. The 25-year old right finished 4-8, 4.43.Webster made 11 starts for Boston, finishing with a strong kick in September after a shaky August. Overall, he was 5-3, 5.03.

Signed: Lester Goes To The Cubs

lesterbye

Jon Lester says good-bye to Boston.

 

All along the thought here was that Jon Lester would return to the Boston Red Sox, the team he played for eight-plus seasons until a 2014 deadline deal to the Oakland A’s. But the free agent lefty instead opted for a reported six-year, $155MM deal with the Chicago Cubs.

The deal, which was agreed upon late Tuesday night, includes a vesting option for a seventh season that would bring the total worth of the deal to $170MM. According to ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Estes, the Red Sox top offer was six years for $135MM with no vesting option included.

Lester, who doesn’t turn 31 until January, was 16-11, 2.46 in 32 starts (21 with Boston) between the Red Sox and A’s last season. The pending free agent was dealt with outfielder Jonny Gomes to the A’s on July 31 for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and a draft slot. Cespedes has been the subject of trade rumors, which now may pick up with the increased need for a front of the rotation starting pitcher.

The Red Sox reportedly made a one-year offer to bring back another former pitcher, Justin Masterson, but the righty struggled last year with Cleveland and St. Louis. You can expect renewed talks with the Philadelphia Phillies for Cole Hamels.

New Cubs manager Joe Maddon was more than happy to have an old AL East nemesis on his team.

“It’s not often you get to win the lottery,” he said. “We won the baseball lottery so far this year, but now it’s up to us to put it into effect. It’s all theory right now. We’ve got to make it real, but you need pieces like this to make it real.”

“He’s been [to the World Series] before. He understands what it feels like. I want to believe that he could foresee the same thing happening here,” Maddon said.

“Yeah. It definitely sends that message about how [Cubs president Theo Epstein] and the group feels about this particular group, but understand we have a lot of young players that have to grow up, and we have to do a good job of nurturing that and making it happen,” Maddon said. “It’s possible, but having Jon there definitely adds to the flavor and the believability.”1

Baseball free agency…expect the unexpected.

1 – espn.com

Lester Moves On to Chicago and Delivers Retort

lesterbye

All along the thought here was that Jon Lester would return to the Boston Red Sox, the team he played for eight-plus seasons until a 2014 deadline deal to the Oakland A’s. But the free agent lefty instead opted for a reported six-year, $155MM deal with the Chicago Cubs.

The deal, which was agreed upon late Tuesday night, includes a vesting option for a seventh season that would bring the total worth of the deal to $170MM. According to ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Estes, the Red Sox top offer was six years for $135MM with no vesting option included.

Lester, who doesn’t turn 31 until January, was 16-11, 2.46 in 32 starts (21 with Boston) between the Red Sox and A’s last season. The pending free agent was dealt with outfielder Jonny Gomes to the A’s on July 31 for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and a draft slot. Cespedes has been the subject of trade rumors, which now may pick up with the increased need for a front of the rotation starting pitcher.

The Red Sox reportedly made a one-year offer to bring back another former pitcher, Justin Masterson, but the righty struggled last year with Cleveland and St. Louis. You can expect renewed talks with the Philadelphia Phillies for Cole Hamels.

New Cubs manager Joe Maddon was more than happy to have an old AL East nemesis on his team.

“It’s not often you get to win the lottery,” he said. “We won the baseball lottery so far this year, but now it’s up to us to put it into effect. It’s all theory right now. We’ve got to make it real, but you need pieces like this to make it real.”

“He’s been [to the World Series] before. He understands what it feels like. I want to believe that he could foresee the same thing happening here,” Maddon said.

“Yeah. It definitely sends that message about how [Cubs president Theo Epstein] and the group feels about this particular group, but understand we have a lot of young players that have to grow up, and we have to do a good job of nurturing that and making it happen,” Maddon said. “It’s possible, but having Jon there definitely adds to the flavor and the believability.”1

Baseball free agency…expect the unexpected.

UPDATE

What’s not unexpected is the reaction by some Red Sox fans to Lester’s departure. Lester took to Twitter to thank the fans and then delivered a witty response to one cranky New Englander.

lestertwitter

1 – espn.com

Lester, Kemp, Melky, Cespedes and Other Rumors and Factoids

kemp

With the winter meetings commencing in San Diego Monday, there should be a handful of big named players that are dealt, signed, or talked about in the coming days.

Jon Lester and Matt Kemp are the two biggest names that are constantly creating a buzz on the line. It’s clear that Lester will set the bar for free agent pitching with his signing almost certainly to come before that of fellow free agent pitchers Max Scherzer and James Shields.

UPDATE – ESPN’s Buster Olney has reported that a decision by Lester is expected between Monday night and some time on Tuesday.

The only reported contract that has been offered to the left-hander is a six-year, $138MM deal that the Chicago Cubs have served up. On Saturday, Red Sox owner John Henry flew to Atlanta to meet with his former star to see if a deal can be struck to bring Lester back to Boston. You can be sure Henry flat out asked what will it take, and will certainly be looking for a hometown discount. Especially after the boatload of money given to free agents Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.

The Red Sox rotation for 2015 is, at the moment, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Rubby De La Rosa, Alan Webster, and either Anthony Ranaudo or Brandon Workman. Even if Lester returns to the Red Sox, whom he played parts of nine seasons for until his trade to Oakland at the July deadline, the Red Sox will be looking to acquire another proven starter before Spring Training.

In dealing John Lackey and Lester, the Red Sox received outfielder/1st baseman Allen Craig and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.  Boston appears to be willing to move one or both to strengthen their starting pitching. Rumors flew on Sunday that the Red Sox and San Diego Padres were discussing a Cespedes for Ian Kennedy deal.

Kennedy bounced back from a rough 2013 season with 201 innings pitched, a WHIP under 1.3 and a 3.63 ERA in 2014. He finished 13-13 to remain 13 games over .500 in his career. Cespedes started hitting like a house afire when he joined the Red Sox (22 RBI in 24 games), but ended up with a .719 OPS in 51 games after a weak September.

The Los Angeles Dodgers continue to look for a new home for outfielder Matt Kemp. Bob Dutton of the Tacoma New Tribune reported Saturday that Dodgers and Seattle Mariners were close to a deal, but the Dodgers insisted that one of Seattle’s top pitching prospects – Taijuan Walker or James Paxton – be included in the deal. Seattle responded with a big “NO” to that.

According to FoxSports’ Jon Morosi, the Texas Rangers have now joined Seattle, Baltimore, and San Diego in pursuit of Kemp. Bob Nightengale of USA Today believe the Padres are the likely landing spot for the veteran outfielder.

Kemp isn’t the only Dodger being shopped. LA spoke to the Arizona Diamondbacks about a swap that would sent first baseman Andre Ethier to the desert for catcher Miguel Montero.  A potential deal was negated by Arizona ownership, per FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal. Trading within the division is always a tricky thing and it’s understandable that front offices get nervous about a player coming back to haunt them 15-20 times a year.

The market for Melky Cabrera is beginning to heat up. The Mariners are reportedly very interested in a Melky – Robinson Cano reunion. The contract could be similar to the four-year deal the M’s gave Nelson Cruz. The San Francisco Giants, who the Melkman played for in 2012, are also showing interest. Cabrera missed the last 50 games of the regular season due to his Biogenesis suspension and the Giants decided against bringing him back for the playoffs.

Pitcher Jason Hammel appears headed back to the Chicago Cubs, per the NY Post’s Joel Sherman. Hammel was dealt by the Cubs to Oakland at the deadline last season and subsequently bombed.

ESPN’s Adam Rubin reported that the New York Mets, very much in need of a shortstop, have talked to the Mariners about Chris Taylor and Brad Miller. Wilmer Flores is the Mets shortstop in the meantime.

Rosenthal’s sources say the Milwaukee Brewers are open to dealing outfielder Gerardo Parra. The 27-year old was sent from Arizona to Milwaukee for a pair of minor leaguers at this past season’s trade deadline.

Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun has the Blue Jays talking to the KC Royals about closer Greg Holland. The Royals need to replenish their starting pitching with the likely departure of free agent James Shields. The Royals have a number of hard throwing relievers, with Kelvin Herrera as the favorite to replace Holland if he’s dealt. The price for Holland would be steep after the 29-year old saved 93 games and blew just five opportunities over the last two seasons.

Rumors Flying As Winter Meetings Approach

Headley

You would be fired up too if someone offered you more than $16MM a year.

Baseball’s Winter meetings will convene in San Diego this weekend…SoCal in December vs Northeast in December…sigh…’nuff said. A number of rumors concerning free agents and possible trades have been floated out there as the weekend approaches.

The latest is a reported (by Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan) four-year, $65MM offer for free agent third baseman Chase Headley. No matter how much the owners complain, they still make ridiculous offers and this is certainly one. Headley, who has a fabulous glove, has not been productive at the plate since his one huge year that made baseball stand up and take notice.

Maybe it was fear that the Mayans would be right, but Headley hit in 2012 like his life depended on it. The Padres third baseman hit 31 home runs, had 115 RBI, and an .875 OPS. Numbers that Headley has not approached before or after 2012. Prior to his trade to the Yankees at this past season’s deadline, Headley had a .651 OPS in 77 games with San Diego. In 58 games for the Bronx Bombers, Headley had a respectable .768 OPS, but he was a non-factor in August before a hot streak in September gave him decent numbers, in a small sample (58 games), in pinstripes.

The Yankees made the mistake of giving Ichiro Suzuki a two year deal after one hot month in 2012. While Headley is much younger than the Ichiro, he has nowhere near the Hall of Fame career the Yankees gambled on when they gave Ichiro a new contract prior to the 2013 season. Headley seems like a good guy and flashes the leather with the best of them, but I would not be happy if that four-year, $65M deal was offered by a team I was a fan of.

Lester nearing a decision?

CSNNE.com’s Sean McAdam reported on Wednesday that free agent pitcher Jon Lester was “likely” to make a decision on his future by the end of the week. Why McAdam felt that way remains to be seen – is this from a source or sources, or a hunch? – but there are reportedly four teams in on the bidding.

FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal stated Wednesday evening that the Los Angeles Dodgers were making a late, hard push for Lester’s services. The Chicago Cubs had reportedly made Lester a six-year, $138MM offer on Tuesday. The Boston Red Sox, who Lester played for in parts of nine seasons before his deadline deal to Oakland, and the San Francisco Giants are the other two teams trying to sign the lefty. (It’s still a mystery how the New York Yankees have not been involved since a relatively young left-handed pitcher is always a need in the Bronx.)

Speaking of the A’s, they are reportedly shopping Brandon Moss, who had offseason hip surgery. Moss, once touted as a prospect, floundered in the Major Leagues until he arrived in Oakland. He had 21 HR and 52 RBI in a little more than half a season in 2012 and followed that up with 30-87 and 25-81 the last two seasons as a first baseman and outfielder. He was selected to his first All-Star team in 2014.

In his second year of arbitration eligibility Moss would get a bump from the $4.1MM he earned last season. The kind of money that does not fits into GM Billy Beane’s budget.

Jays and Mariners Swap Players

The deal that took place Wednesday night between the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners flew under the radar, but could have a fairly significant impact on both teams. Seattle sent outfielder Michael Saunders to Toronto for left-handed starter J.A. Happ.

Saunders missed 1-1/2 months of baseball due to a strained oblique, which was unfortunate since he was arguably having his best season in the Majors. He finished with a career-best .791 OPS and had 8 HR and 34 RBI in 78 games. With Jose Bautista entrenched in right field, Saunders will slide over to left field to replace Melky Cabrera. GM Alex Anthopoulos made the move knowing that the Melkman preferred not to return to Toronto.

It’s the third time that Happ has been traded, with his value diminished in each deal. He was part of a package that the Philadelphia Phillies sent to the Houston Astros for Roy Oswalt at the 2010 trade deadline. He was part of a deadline deal again two years later, when Houston sent him, and pitchers Brandon Lyon and Dan Carpenter to Toronto for outfielder Ben Francisco, reliever Francisco Cordero, and five minor leaguers.

Happ made 26 starts and four relief appearances for the Blue Jays last season and finished with an 11-11, 4.22 record. He struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings, which was down nearly 1.5 strikeouts since 2012. Happ made just 18 starts in 2013 after being struck in the head by a comebacker off the bat of Tampa’s Desmond Jennings.

So if Happ is to start, who does he replace? Seattle’s rotation, prior to the deal, consisted of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, and Roenis Elias. Paxton was limited to 17 starts – 13 with the Mariners, four in the minors – after undergoing left shoulder surgery in October, 2013, but he’s still highly thought of. There have been rumors that Seattle was shopping Iwakuma, but GM Jack Zduriencik flatly denied that was the case.

Taijuan Walker was the 43rd overall pick in the 2010 draft and is one of the top prospects in baseball. That leaves Elias, who was a surprise rookie success in 2014. In 29 starts, the Cuban-born right-hander struck out 7.6 hitters per nine innings pitched, gave up less than a hit per inning and put together a respectable 3.85 ERA. He finished 10-12 three years after the Mariners signed him as a free agent.

Rumors: Big Money Offers For Lester, J Fernandez

Lester-Fernandez

$23MM dollars…that’s a lot of money that you could do a lot with. According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman that’s the annual average of the six-year $138MM offer the Chicago Cubs have reportedly made to Jon Lester.

The Cubs approach is a bit puzzling. In July they dealt their number one starter, Jeff Samardzija, to the Oakland A’s for a package at that included shortstop prospect Addison Russell. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein must have have a jones for Russell, because why deal Samardzija when he still had a year left on his contract?

Epstein said the Cubs goal in 2015 is to win the NL Central. Isn’t that a team’s goal ever year, to win their division? Imagine if Lester decided to sign with Chicago. They could have had a 1-2 punch of Lester and Samardzija. When the trade deadline rolled around, they could have dealt Samardzija if the team was well out of a playoff run. Instead they deprived their fans of a possibly better chance to make the postseason.

Wrigley Field is undergoing a $575MM renovation and so Epstein wants to get a team in that will please the fans and not just because they are “a fun bunch”. They have plenty of good young players in offensive positions, but there isn’t a lot of experience among the starting pitching.

The current Cubs rotation with their 2014 stats (Games started, record, ERA) are Jake Arrieta (25, 10-5, 2.53), who rejuvenated his career after leaving Baltimore, Travis Wood (31, 8-13, 5.03), Kyle Hendricks (13, 7-2, 2.46 – 17 additional starts in minors), and Tsuyoshi Wada (13, 4-4, 3.25 – 18 additional starts in minors). Jacob Turner, who split last season between the Miami Marlins and Cubs, Felix Doubront, who played for the Boston Red Sox and the Cubs, and minor leaguer Eric Jokisch are all candidates for the back end of the starting staff.

Fans of the Miami Marlins, those who will admit to it, let out a collective gasp this past season when ace Jose Fernandez had to undergo season ending Tommy John surgery.

Fernandez, the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year and third place finisher in the NL Cy Young race, was limited to eight starts in 2014. He began a throwing program two months ago and has a target date of July, 2015 for his return.

Owner Jeffrey Loria and GM Dan Jennings know what a hard nosed and successful pitcher they have in Fernandez and are hoping to give him an extension past the first two years of his free agent eligibility (2019-2020). A reported six-year, $40MM offer has been proposed to Fernandez’s agent, Scott Boras.

The Marlins have also offered extensions to outfielder Christian Yelich and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, and are expected to make a long-term offer to outfielder Marcell Ozuna as well.

Rumors: A Pair of Sox in on Samardzija, Padres Talk Kemp

Kemp

On the heels of Saturday’s reported discussions between Oakland and Atlanta about A’s starter Jeff Samardzija, came reports later in the day that the Chicago White Sox were talking to Oakland as well. On Sunday, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that Boston is also talking to the A’s about Samardzija.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Daryl Van Schouwen, the A’s are interested in White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez and prospect Tim Anderson, also a shortstop.

After a pair of down years at the plate, Ramirez hit 15 home runs and slugged .408 in 2014. He also drove in 74 runs, the second highest total of his career. The 33-year old native of Cuba has one year and $10MM remaining on his contract, with a $10MM team option and $1MM buyout for 2016.

Anderson was ranked this past January by Baseball America’s John Manuel as the third best prospect in the White Sox organization. He was the 17th overall pick in the MLB Amateur draft in 2013 out of East Central Community College (Decatur, MS).

The 21-year old played at three different levels last season, including 68 games played at Advanced ‘A’  Winston-Salem (Carolina League) and 10 games at Double-A Birmingham (Southern League). He was limited to 83 total games due to a fractured wrist that caused him to miss two months.

Marcus Semien, who played 64 games for the White Sox last season, is also thought to be a possibility for Oakland. Semien is a third baseman/second baseman, who Manuel ranked as the 5th best prospect in the organization prior to the 2014 season. He had a mere .300 on-base pct. for Chicago, but slugged a respectable .372.

No names have been mentioned in any Red Sox rumors with Oakland, and Cafardo feels Samardzija would be a plan B or C if they Red Sox can’t bring back Jon Lester or deal for the Phillies’ Cole Hamels.

According to FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal, the San Diego Padres have talked to the Los Angeles about outfielder Matt Kemp. It’s hard to tell what exactly San Diego’s offseason plans are. This is a team with a low payroll that has talked to Lester and other high priced free agents.

Does it represent a change in philosophy or a way to promote season ticket sales? Kemp finished second in the NL MVP vote in 2011, also known as the year Ryan Braun cheated his way to it, after he hit 39 HR and drove in 126 runs. Hamstring and shoulder injuries limited Kemp to 179 games combined over the next two seasons, but he turned in a respectable, healthier 2014.

Playing in 150 games, Kemp hit 25 HR, drove in 89 runs, and put up an .852 OPS. The biggest deterrent in any trade for the 30-year old is the five years and $107MM still due to him on his current contract.

Rumors: Lester, Bogaerts, Hamels

Lester

Big Papi would love to welcome home Jon Lester.

 

Arguably, only the 1977 album “Rumors”, Fleetwood Mac’s greatest (in sales) album, was more entertaining and talked about than baseball’s hot stove. Believing the validity of MLB rumors is only slightly more dicey than the relationships in one of rock and roll’s longest lasting quintets.

The Boston Red Sox had a big day on Monday, signing infielders Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. One would assume that meant shortstop Xander Bogaerts would be used as part of a package to obtain a front line starter. But two team sources told the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham that Bogaerts is still considered the team’s starting shortstop. That would mean a position switch for Ramirez. Do you buy that?

With Dustin Pedroia entrenched at second base, it would mean Ramirez would move to the outfield. Yoenis Cespedes is in left field with Rusney Castillo in center.  Boston has right fielder Shane Victorino under contract for one more season (at $13MM). With David Ortiz at DH, something has to give.

Despite adding an average of $41MM over the next four years (Only Sandoval has a guaranteed 5th year), Abraham reported that the Red Sox are also said to still be in play on their former ace Jon Lester.  With the Sox going nowhere this past season, the team dealt Lester to the Oakland A’s  for the slugging Cespedes.

Lester made $13MM last season and is likely to land at least a five year deal that tops $20MM per season. Do you buy that Boston can still afford that?

It’s possible Lester will give the Sox, for whom he played with for parts of nine seasons, a hometown discount. But this is a chance for Lester, who turns 30 in January, to land the biggest deal of his career and one of the largest in baseball. (The Yankees truly are crazy if they are not in on trying to signing him.) Boston, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, has also had serious talks with the Philadelphia Phillies for lefty Cole Hamels. (The Dodgers are reportedly also in on the fray.)

Phils GM Ruben Amaro Jr. – how does this man keep his job? – is trying to unload salary. He failed to move anyone making substantial money at last season’s deadline – Hamels, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee (who injured his elbow during the post-deadline waiver period) – and needs to now. Hamels is owed $90MM over the next four years and has a possible 5th year (2019) at $24MM (vesting) or $20MM (team option).

Despite the claim by team sources, Bogaerts would most certainly have to be part of any package sent to Philadelphia along with one of Boston’s top catching prospects, Blake Swihart or Christian Vazquez. It would all depend on how much money is picked up by Boston.

The feeling here is that if the Red Sox can’t land Hamels or bring back Lester at a discount, they’ll try to sign a cheaper option like James Shields.

There is action going on elsewhere in the AL East. Toronto, who already overpaid catcher Russell Martin, is said to be pursuing the Cincinnati Reds versatile outfielder, Jay Bruce.

Blue Jays are, however, working to add a left-handed bat to their lineup. One name they are talking about: Jay Bruce.

The left-handed hitting Bruce would be a great addition to any team. The Reds would have to be blown away by any offer though, since the 27-year old outfielder is under contract for the next two seasons at an average of $12.25MM and has a team option for a third year at a minuscule $13MM.

The outfielder is coming off a miserable year in which he hit just .217 and had a sub-.700 OPS. But in the three years prior to that, Bruce topped 30 home runs and averaged 101 RBI.

UPDATE – ComcastSportsNet’s (CSNChicago.com) Dave Kaplan is reporting that the Chicago Cubs have made a “significant offer” of six years and a salary figure “north of $135MM” to free agent pitcher Jon Lester.

Big Names, Big Games in AL Wild Card Contest

Lester and Shields Prepared For Their One Game Duel

Lester and Shields Prepared For Their One Game Duel

by Drew Sarver

It has been 29 years since the Kansas City Royals reached the postseason. 1985 saw the Royals win their one and only World Series Championship. (With a  little help from umpire Don Denkinger.) Tuesday night, the Royals will host the Oakland A’s in a one game showdown between the two AL Wild Card winners. To the victor go the spoils and a divisional round match up with the Los Angeles Angels. You know where the losers go.

The A’s have been to the playoffs 11 times during the Royals drought, but haven’t been to the World Series since 1990. Their last World Series title, the ninth in franchise history (The first five were won when they called Philadelphia home), came in the “Earthquake series” with the San Francisco Giants.

The Royals were an expansion team in 1969, two years after the A’s departed Kansas City after a 13-season run. The only prior postseason meeting between the two squads came after the strike-shortened 1981 regular season. The Billy Martin-managed A’s swept KC in three straight games before they were swept in three games by the New York Yankees in the ALCS. It was a disappointing end of the season for Kansas City, which lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies one year earlier.

Tuesday night, the teams will have one chance to move on to the divisional series. That is the punishment in Major League Baseball for not winning your division.

The Royals are counting on their ace, James “Big Game” Shields, who earned that moniker while a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, to take them to the next step. The Rays’ usual money crunching resulted in a trade that sent Shields and reliever Wade Davis to KC for then prospects Wil Myers (now a regular in the Rays’ lineup), pitchers Jake Odorizzi (now a regular in the Rays’ rotation) and Mike Montgomery.

Shields, a free agent after the season, has been incredibly consistent in his two seasons in the state of Missouri. He followed up a 13-9, 3.15 campaign in 2013 with a 14-8, 3.21 mark this season.  The 32-year old has topped 200 innings in eight straight seasons, and pitched just 1.2 innings less this year than he did in 2013. He’s made at least 33 starts in each of the last seven seasons, a testament to his durability.

A 16th round pick in the 2000 MLB amateur draft, Shields has had his ups and downs in six post-season appearances. He put his team in a 3-1 hole in the 3rd inning of Game 1 of the 2008 ALDS, but the Rays rallied for a 6-4 victory. Shields picked up the victory and settled down, before departing in the 7th inning. Though he lost both of his starts in the ALCS, which Tampa Bay won in seven games, Shields lost the opener to Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka, 2-0. He didn’t fare as well in a 4-2 loss in Game 6.

Down one game to none in the World Series, Shields tossed 5.2 shutout innings to help Tampa even the series with the Philadelphia Phillies at a game apiece. Shields didn’t get another chance to pitch, however, as the Phillies closed things out in five games.

Shields will need to be at his best for the one-game playoff, because his counterpart is one tough customer. Jon Lester has a pair of World Series rings, but his victory over cancer is arguably his biggest win. After treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Lester returned to the Boston Red Sox in 2007 and threw 5-plus shutout innings in Game 4 of the Red Sox World Series sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Like Shields, Lester has been a model of consistency in his career. He’s topped 200 innings in six of the last seven seasons and may be having his finest season to date. Lester put up career bests in innings pitched (219.2), ERA (2.46) and walks per nine innings (2.0). He averaged better than nine strikeouts per nine innings, allowed 0.7 home runs per nine innings, and was named to his third All-Star team. For someone that played for over eight years in a baseball hot bed such as Boston, it’s hard to believe how little Lester is talked about when the names of the best pitchers in baseball come up.

Jon Lester is ddefinitelyone of them and that will be reflected this coming offseason when the free agent to be hits the open market. Lester had a tough decision as the trade deadline approached this past Summer. Stay in Boston, destined for last place, or go somewhere with a chance to make the postseason and possibly return to New England over the Winter. Lester chose the latter and produced a 2.35 ERA in 11 starts, of which he won six. Through no fault of his own, Oakland plummeted out of first place (14-23 in their final 37 games) in the AL West and ended up 10 games behind the Angels.

Instead of preparing themselves to play the winner of the Wild Card play-in, and trotting out Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, and Sonny Gray, the A’s will lean heavily on their left-handed ace to give their starting rotation the chance to flex their pitching muscle. They have a good chance to move on with Lester, who enters the game with a 2.11 ERA in 13 playoff appearances, 11 of them starts.

Two big names for one very big game.

Who hits Shields:

Josh Reddick .318/.318/.864  3 HR 5 RBI in 22 plate appearances (PA)
Nick Punto 4-14 (.286) with 4 walks in 18 PA

Who doesn’t hit Shields:

Adam Dunn 7-35 (.200) 1 HR in 40 PA
Coco Crisp 3-24 (.125) in 25 PA
Jed Lowrie 3-16 (.188) in 16 PA

Who hits Lester:

Alcides Escobar .353/.429/.471 in 21 PA
Lorenzo Cain .313/.353/.500 in 17 PA
Eric Hosmer .308/.471/.538 1 HR in 17 PA
Raul Ibanez .333/.333/.667 1 HR in 15 PA

Who doesn’t hit Lester:

Billy Butler 4-28 (.143) in 33 PA
Alex Gordon 4-25 (.160) in 28 PA
Josh Willingham 3-20 (.150) in 26 PA
Omar Infante 3-20 (.150) in 22 PA

 

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Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

Lester and Price Lead The Winners and Losers of Deadline Day

Tigers supergroup

Three Cy Young winners All in a row.

It’s been a five days since the craziness of the final hours of the Major League Baseball trade deadline came to an end. I cannot recall the last time there was such monumental team changing/game changing deals on July 31. Lately, many of the bigger trades have taken place as the deadline neared. This year, it was a frenzy right down to the final minutes, with some deals announced shortly after the deadline had passed.

So, who came up as the winners and losers at the deadline? Let’s take a look.

Winners

Oakland A’s: This isn’t Moneyball, this is sending and receiving at its finest. The A’s needed to strengthen their starting rotation and add some veteran presence to it. Prior to the deadline, they went out and got Chicago Cubs ace Jeff Samarzdija and fellow starter Jason Hammel for a package that included highly rated shortstop prospect Addison Russell.

Inserted in the A’s rotation, Samarzdija pitched to his reputation, but Hammel struggled, leading GM Billy Beane to pull off a bold move. He sent his slugging left fielder Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox for their ace, Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes. The A’s outfield had been thinned with an injury to Coco Crisp, so the addition of Gomes gave them another World Series ring-wearing veteran.( Beane would later flip aggrieved starter Tommy Milone for outfielder Sam Fuld to strengthen the bench and play centerfield while Crisp is out)

Lester was the key maneuver, though, joining a rotation of Samarzdija, veteran Scott Kazmir and youngsters Sonny Gray and Jesse Chavez. The left-hander started his first game as an Athletic on Saturday, in front of a charged Oakland crowd. Lester allowed three earned runs in 6.2 innings pitched in the A’s 8-3 victory. It was Lester’s 110th career victory and his first in a uniform other than that of the Boston Red Sox. (A day later Lester took out a full page ad in the Boston Globe to thank the fans.)

Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly. That’s a pretty intimidating starting rotation right out of the box. Now add David Price to it and look out. That’s exactly what Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski was able to do on Thursday. As soon as Lester was dealt by Boston, Tampa Bay Rays’ Executive VP of Operations and GM, Andrew Friedman, began to get inundated with calls about Price.

The 2012 AL Cy Young winner still had another year on his contract, so Tampa did not need to trade him this year with the worry of losing him to free agency in the offseason. But Friedman found a deal he liked and brought in the Seattle Mariners as a third team to get it done.

The Rays sent Price to Detroit, who in turn traded centerfielder Austin Jackson to the Mariners and Smyly and minor league infielder Willy Adames to the Rays. The Rays also received second base prospect Nick Franklin from Seattle.

The Tigers now have the last three AL Cy Young winners with Verlander (2011, also MVP), Price (2012) and Scherzer (2013). Sanchez is now the best number four starter in the Major Leagues. The Tigers still need to work on their bullpen –as the Phillies can attest, a great rotation (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt) doesn’t always get it done – which has not performed up to par, but they may not need to make too many appearances with a group of starters that can routinely pitch into the 7th and 8th innings. Price makes his Tigers’ debut Tuesday evening in a place he has started 23 games, Yankee Stadium. (Price is 10-5, 3.66 vs. the Yankees, including 6-2 in the new Yankee Stadium.)

Boston Red Sox: There were a lot of disgruntled Red Sox fans on Thursday, most of them not wanting to see Lester go. But with a better than 50/50 chance of Lester returning as a free agent, GM Ben Cherington took a team that went from first to worst and got it back on the road to future success.

In Cespedes, he got a bona fide power hitter whose power had been lessened by the A’s spacious home ballpark. Now he has the Green Monster to pepper shots off of. It also gives David Ortiz more protection in the lineup than he had with Mike Napoli and allows manager John Farrell to move Dustin Pedroia into the number two slot in the order. Cherington also sent John Lackey to St. Louis for first baseman Allen Craig and pitcher Joe Kelly

Craig drove in 90-plus runs the last two seasons before an ankle injury robbed him of much of the current season. He’ll give depth to a lineup that has struggled to score runs this season. The Red Sox also added youth with the just turned 30-year old Craig and the 26-year old Kelly. The right-hander was solid the past two seasons as a reliever and occasional starter, and helped the Cardinals to their second NL pennant in three years in 2013.

Kelly was limited to 10 starts between the Majors (7) and minors (3) this season due to a strained hamstring that kept him out of action for three months. He’ll join the only remaining Boston starter, Clay Buchholz, from the rotation that began the year. (The Red Sox had already dealt Jake Peavy prior to the deadline and sent lefty Felix Doubront to the Chicago Cubs on the 31st.)

The Sox also dealt veteran shortstop Stephen Drew, to the Yankees of all people, to free up playing time for Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, and Mookie Betts. The aforementioned Peavy deal brought them pitcher Edwin Escobar, ranked in the 2014 top 100 MLB prospects by Baseball America and MLB.com, and a possible addition to their bullpen in right-hander Heath Hembree.

 

Losers:

Philadelphia Phillies: One has to wonder how GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has managed to keep his job. Yes, the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and repeated as NL pennant winners a year later. But the writing was on the wall for quite some time and Amaro ignored it. He also doled out way too much money for too many players and was unable to move any of them by the deadline.

One of those players was starting pitcher Cliff Lee. The former AL Cy Young Winner still has about $37.5MM owed to him for the next two years. Whether he’ll be able to play or not is another matter. Lee was bothered by elbow problems this season, which made him and his contract harder to move. But Amaro should have done something, even if it meant not getting much in return. He may have been able to move some of Lee’s salary. He didn’t and Lee re-injured his elbow and is likely done for the season, which means no waiver trade either.

First baseman Ryan Howard is not what he used to be, which was a home run smashing, RBI-producing, bad-fielding first baseman. Okay, he is still the last part. Amaro foolishly gave Howard a six year, $106MM extension after the 2012 season. It’s a deal that will be paying Howard $25MM the next two years when he is 35 and 36. The Phillies are just lucky, if you want to call it that, they have a $10MM buyout on a $23MM option in 2017.

If you are to believe the reports, Amaro was also asking for too much in return for outfielder Marlon Byrd. As of this writing, the 36-year old had a .799 OPS with 21 HR and 63 RBI in 110 games. Ah, but Amaro’s over-generosity did him in again. There are plenty of teams that want Byrd for this year, maybe even next season at the $8MM it may cost them. But they don’t want a 38-year old Byrd with another $8MM in 2016.

Amaro was clearly counting on Byrd not being able to attain the vested portion of his contract – 600 plate appearances (PA) in 2015 or 1100 PA between this year and next. Byrd already has 462 PA as of this writing, with nearly two full months of the season left.

Amaro could have also moved A.J. Burnett, whose performance has dropped off from last season. Burnett makes $15MM and has a mutual option with just a $1MM buyout for next year. In today’s market, Amaro did a good job on Burnett’s deal. Burnett is the most likely of the Phillies to pass through waivers and be dealt. He’d better be or Amaro’s trade season will be a complete flop. Not that it still won’t be a complete flop even if Amaro does move Burnett.

There were a number of teams that hoped to improve with minor moves that fall somewhere in between winner and loser. Time will tell which of the categories those deals fall into.

 

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Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.