Here is a link to my column about the Oakland A’s and Jon Lester. The full text runs below.
It’s fun to be Billy Beane. He has so many toys to play with.
He just got another toy, lefty Jon Lester, a top-five pitcher in baseball. It sure is fun to be Billy Beane.
Billy used to field a good team, a respectable team, but the pitchers always had flaws which showed up in the postseason. The pitchers were too young — Sonny Gray. Or they were too old — Bartolo Colon. Or they just weren’t good enough. And the A’s always lost in the first round. The whole enterprise was discouraging. Small-market team, small-payroll team couldn’t compete with the big boys once things got serious and the telecasts went national.
Now the A’s are the most serious team in the big leagues. Bar none. Someone in the organization told Billy to shed the organization’s skinflint image and go for it. Just go for it. Be a World Series contender.
And that’s exactly what the A’s did. They fought off the Dodgers for Lester. Imagine that, the Dodgers with all their dough and all those talented players. The A’s just made the most dramatic, the most powerful, the most definitive trade in baseball. No team can match them for grabbing the world with both hands.
Lester for left fielder Yoenis Cespedes.
The A’s make that trade every time. Great trade.
Nothing against Cespedes. Dynamic player. Young player. Good hitter. Power hitter. But he was not carrying the team. In terms of OPS — I’m sorry to use this stat — his OPS, on-base percentage plus slugging average, ranked sixth on the A’s. And that doesn’t even include Stephen Vogt, who leads everyone but has fewer at-bats.
The point? Cespedes is very good but not essential. The A’s are dangerous up and down the batting order even without Cespedes. The A’s will hit. The A’s will hit in the postseason.
Now, they also will pitch. They have an ace. A true ace. Lester was the best pitcher last year on the World Series champion Boston Red Sox. A’s newcomer Jeff Samardzija was a star in the National League, an easier league to pitch in. No designated hitter over there. And he was a Cub, for heaven’s sake. He never pitched in big games.
Lester thrives in the American League. Dominates. He is averaging a strikeout an inning this season. Put him together with Samardzija and Scott Kazmir and the A’s have three current All-Stars.
Has he flourished in big games?
Come on. In postseason 2013, Lester’s record was 4-1. He started and won two World Series games. His earned run average in the World Series was 0.59. That was against the St. Louis Cardinals, an ERA as small as a shriveled pea. It almost seems unfair to add him to the A’s staff.
Why is he so important?
Because pitching wins in the postseason. Good pitching defeats good hitting. A team needs an ace — Lester. And it needs several almost-aces — Samardzija, Gray, Kazmir. In a sequence of short postseason series, the starting rotation can get out of rotation and a team needs near aces to back up the ace. The A’s have all of that.
When have the Billy Beane A’s enjoyed such luxury?
They are renting Lester for two months. He is a free agent after this season. The Red Sox offered $70 million for four years — something you and I certainly would at least consider. Lester didn’t consider it. The A’s never will pay Lester more than $70 million. They won’t even pay a measly $70 million. They are going all in for a two-month lease on this elite pitcher.
When did the A’s ever act with such joyous irresponsibility?
In the past, the A’s would get murdered in the first round of the playoffs when they faced murderous pitchers. Think Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Now the A’s have their own version of Scherzer and Verlander, and they have more.
When did the A’s ever enjoy such delightful excess?
They also reacquired outfielder/DH Jonny Gomes from Boston. Petaluma Jonny. He is not Cespedes, but he will hit. He can play left field. He is a veteran, well liked in the A’s clubhouse. The A’s also can play Brandon Moss in left. They can put Vogt at first base.
The A’s almost have more options than you can calculate.
When did the A’s have such an overload of options?
The A’s needed to get Lester to keep the surprising Angels down in second place. The A’s are vulnerable in their own division and, frankly, they are too good to be vulnerable. And without Lester, they would have been vulnerable to the Detroit Tigers who just got 2012 American League Cy Young Award pitcher David Price from Tampa.
The A’s just became less vulnerable.
The A’s have been a flop of a franchise. You know that. They have been cheap — Scroogelike — and they have been unimaginative, and they whined about their ballpark, and they made excuses for losing in the postseason. They have been a drag on our collective sensibility.
Not anymore. The A’s just announced they are a new kind of A’s — at least in the short term. There are two baseball teams in the Bay Area — the A’s have all the daring, the dash and the swagger.
They also have the pitching.
When was it this much fun to be Billy Beane?
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn firstname.lastname@example.org.