The big trade deadline shoe dropped early Thursday morning, and it landed in an unexpected place for an unexpected value.
The Boston Red Sox dealt their ace and pending free agent left-hander Jon Lester as well as outfielder Jonny Gomes and some cash to the Oakland Athletics for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and a competitive balance draft pick in 2014.
The first thought: Wow.
The second thought is that the Athletics, who have baseball’s best record and had already added starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel this summer, are without a doubt the favorite to represent the American League in the World Series.
That said, Cespedes was a big part of Oakland's offense -- especially from a “who scares you?” standpoint -- so the Athletics will have to make up his offensive and defensive loss in the outfield. I’m fairly certain Oakland general manager Billy Beane has considered that.
So, what does this deal mean for the Orioles?
In one regard, nothing. Despite some reports yesterday that were eventually refuted, I never got the sense the Orioles were progressing at all in talks involving Lester. Too many people I trust told me that the Orioles did not want to give up top prospects -- especially not to a division rival like the Red Sox. Too much pain involved in watching players you drafted succeed for a club you play 19 times each year.
There were also some reports that the Orioles got cold feet Wednesday and stalled talks with the Red Sox after finding out that one of their top prospects, 19-year-old Hunter Harvey, would be shut down for the season with a right elbow strain. Don’t buy it -- the Orioles knew about Harvey’s diagnosis Tuesday. It was the media that found out late Wednesday afternoon.
So, the timeline doesn’t make sense that talks heated up Wednesday morning and then cooled because of Harvey, since the Orioles knew about Harvey’s situation before then. Such is media life at the trade deadline.
And, for you Orioles fans who scream that the club needed to go for it like Beane, who would you have traded to Boston that would have been comparable to Cespedes? Adam Jones? Didn’t think so.
As for what this trade means for the Orioles competitively, well, it’s not encouraging. Oakland is probably the best team I have seen in person this season (the Los Angeles Angels and the Milwaukee Brewers are runners-up), and they just picked up a guy with a 1.97 ERA and six wins in 73 October innings.
Anything can happen in the postseason, but the playoffs are built on pitching, and the Athletics are loaded now. It’s so deep that Hammel, the former Orioles right-hander, might just been pushed out of the five-man rotation.
This deal also isn’t a good thing for the Orioles when it comes to 2015. Cespedes, who can decide to become a free agent after next season, is a very good player who should thrive at Fenway Park, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Lester re-joins the Red Sox this offseason.
In the short term, though, the Orioles face the Red Sox for six games in September and now won’t have to deal with Lester, who potentially would have started twice against them. So there’s a positive.
As for the Orioles’ trade possibilities before the 4 p.m. nonwaiver trade deadline, I still believe Dan Duquette makes at least one deal.
My money is on a left-handed reliever, though it wouldn’t surprise me if he added a mid-level starting pitcher as well. There’s also a chance he gets a second baseman or catcher who can hit, but the affordable market isn’t very good at either position.
The only potentially available catcher that could help is Minnesota’s Kurt Suzuki. The second base options -- Philadelphia’s Chase Utley, for instance -- seem too exorbitant.
One thing to keep in mind: One of the Orioles pro scouts has been at Wrigley Field watching the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies play. That includes watching a start by Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa.
It’s possible the scout is there for his routine coverage. He also could be looking at the Cubs, who have left-hander James Russell, an intriguing reliever.
One name that was connected to the Orioles in media circles Wednesday was Cubs infielder-outfielder Emilio Bonifacio, who was scratched from Wednesday’s lineup. I was told he wasn’t going to the Orioles -- I heard his most likely landing spot is with the Kansas City Royals, though that hasn’t occurred yet -- so you can cross that name off your Orioles’ list.
But I’m sure there will be other names floated in the next few hours.
Bottom line: Stay tuned today.