The Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox agreed to an Earth-shattering deal early on trade deadline day, as the A’s sent slugger Yoenis Cespedes to the BoSox in exchange for the coveted Jon Lester, in addition to outfield bat Jonny Gomes. In doing so, the A’s picked up two of the three most sought-after arms on the market this entire season, going back to early July when they swung a deal for Jeff Samardzija.
With the silent, yet somehow still obvious, goal of beating the Detroit Tigers, the A’s have now built up a pitching staff that features Lester, Samardzija, young Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, and a duo of the struggling Jason Hammel and the surprising Jesse Chavez to duke it out for that fifth spot. In the event of injury or implosion, as Hammel’s recent stretch could probably categorize as, the A’s are six starters deep, in addition to having Drew Pomeranz down in Triple-A after a solid stretch that culminated in him breaking his hand on a chair.
Regardless of whether or not you agree with the A’s sending Cespedes back, there is some logic there. Not only was he set to become an unaffordable free agent after the 2015 season, he wasn’t exactly having the best of seasons at the plate. With the exception of his ability to gun runners out from the deepest reaches of the outfield, and his Home Run Derby prowess, he was having trouble finding that power consistently and getting on base this year.
The larger picture for Oakland, of course, is the fact that this deal could make them the odds-on favorites to capture their first World Series title since 1989. Both of the blockbuster moves they have made this year have made that intention very clear. They’re going for it. And by trading Cespedes, they have a bit of wiggle room to sign some of this pitching longer term and perhaps continue to go for it. Nonetheless, does this deal, in fact, make Oakland World Series favorites?
More specifically, are the A’s better than Detroit? Because that’s the team they’re going to have to knock off in order to get out of the American League.
For one, their pitching staff is as deep, and as good, as any in the league. That rotation is silly good, and probably better than Detroit’s when you go from top to bottom. Yes, the Tigers acquired David Price, but as strong as that 1-2 punch with Max Scherzer is, the A’s are better 1-3 or 1-4. And as far as their relief corps is concerned, the A’s are one of the league’s best. Their bullpen ERA is fourth in the bigs and second in the American League. The Tigers are 28th in the league in the same category.
But we know the A’s can pitch. With Cespedes now out of the mix, though (even with his struggles in mind), how does the Oakland offense stack up against the rest of the league? Spoiler alert: it’s still very, very good. The A’s and their record setting run differential are first in the league in runs scored. Perhaps working in their favor is that they aren’t really anchored by one or two guys. Sure, Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson shoulder the load in the power department, but they get on-base contributions from up and down their lineup. Their .329 OBP ranks sixth in the league.
Ultimately, while Detroit may pack more of an offensive punch in a short series, it’s going to come down to pitching. And the A’s, with their current staff, have ability to outpitch anyone, be it a five-game set or seven-game series. Their starting staff is deep, their pitching staff is deep. Their lineup isn’t going to blow you away with superstar talent, but it’s consistent, and it’s also deep. Getting Gomes was an underrated get for Billy Beane in the trade. He brings some pop to the mix as well, helping to mitigate the loss of Cespedes.
At this point, we know that the A’s are an elite team in Major League Baseball. We could also very easily call them World Series favorites, as well. It won’t come true until they can prove that they can get past Detroit. But right now, the A’s may have the ‘favorite’ label, based off of what they’ve done to this point in the season, and what they’ve managed to add.