BOSTON -- General manager Ben Cherington and the Boston Red Sox threw a major curveball at the baseball world Thursday.
While the sport waited for the Red Sox to trade off some of their veteran players and get prospects in return, Cherington primarily went another way: He knew his club was loaded with minor league prospects, so he picked up talent that can help the Sox right now and into next season.
"Hopefully, we've turned this into moves that make us better now and give us a real head start the rest of the season and into the offseason with the full intent of building a strong, contending team in 2015," Cherington said at a Thursday night media conference.
Taking full blame for the defending champions falling into last place because of offseason decisions that didn't work, Cherington, who already released catcher A.J. Pierzynski and traded pitchers Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront, wheeled and dealed on Thursday. He sent ace Jon Lester to the Oakland A's along with left fielder Jonny Gomes in exchange for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. He then traded right-hander John Lackey, a minor-leaguer and cash to the St. Louis Cardinals for right-hander Joe Kelly and outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig.
Lester and Lackey recorded seven of the Red Sox's 11 wins in last year's postseason. Lester, due to be a free agent after the season, said previously he would consider coming back, but that doesn't seem likely.
The Red Sox played hardball with impending free agents before, and it mostly backfired, most recently when they allowed center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to leave for the rival New York Yankees as a free agent.
Boston's other non-waiver deadline deal sent left-handed reliever Andrew Miller, also free at the end of the year, to the Baltimore Orioles for minor league left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, one of three pitching prospects the Sox acquired in the recent deals. Miller also said he would come back if the offer were right.
What a day!
"It's part of the game," right-hander Clay Buchholz, now the ace of the staff, told NESN as he entered his charity bowling event Thursday night. "It stinks to see your friends leave, the guys that you've been around for a good while."
However, now he takes the mound Saturday with Cespedes, who will be tried in right field (Shane Victorino is hurt again), and Craig in left.
Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, now a Red Sox broadcaster, said, "This is the craziest day I've been associated with. Are you kidding me? What they've done? I can't even tell you what I think is going to happen because nobody really knows.
"Everybody's gone. This is crazy. I'm excited to see what's going to happen."
The ex-pitcher loves the new offense, which will also feature rookie Xander Bogaerts moving back to shortstop and Will Middlebrooks coming back from the minors to play third base.
"I'm excited about Cespedes -- we needed offense so bad," Eckersley said. "They had to get offense. This is getting old -- we've watched this all year. Can't score runs. Can't go out of the ballpark -- and this is the Boston Red Sox? This is a major problem."
Buchholz, talking about Cespedes, said of the Cuban import, who can leave after next season if not signed to an extension, "(He will help) a lot -- especially with that wall being as close as it is.
"He's a tough out. He can take some really good swings on really good pitches and then sort of get you off from throwing those. Not to mention that he's got a cannon from the outfield."
Asked to sum up the day, Buchholz said, "It's going to take some getting used to, but there's not really a choice."
Cherington admitted he got little sleep for several days (the Cespedes/Lester deal, he said, was finalized at 3 or 4 a.m.).
"I think we're in a better position than we were a week ago, but certainly not done," the GM said. "We've got 54 games left, and these are the most important 54 games of our season. We've got a lot to find out."
He said the eight wins in nine games out of the All-Star break had the team thinking of adding for a run at the postseason. Then came three consecutive losses at Toronto en route to losing eight of nine, and "the math" changed.
It was time to shake things up.
"There's nothing sort of celebratory about this," he said, noting the team's 48-60 record led to the mass moves. He called the season "frustrating, disappointing, hard to explain."
STREAK: Lost three
NEXT: Yankees (LHP Chris Capuano, 1-1, 4.30 ERA) at Red Sox (LHP John Lackey, 11-7, 3.60 ERA)
--LHP Jon Lester was traded to the Oakland A's along with OF Jonny Gomes and cash in exchange for OF Yoenis Cespedes. Lester, who can be a free agent at the end of the season, is 10-7 with a 2.52 ERA in 21 starts this year. The three-time All-Star was part of two World Series championship teams in Boston. He joins an Oakland rotation that was revamped in recent weeks and looks loaded for the stretch drive.
--OF Jonny Gomes was traded to the Oakland A's along with LHP Jon Lester and cash in exchange for OF Yoenis Cespedes. Gomes, 33, hit .234/.329/.354 with six homers and 32 RBIs in 78 games for Boston this year. He might share time in left field for the A's along with Sam Fuld, who also was acquired Thursday in a trade.
--OF Yoenis Cespedes as acquired by the Red Sox from the A's on Thursday in exchange for LHP Jon Lester, OF Jonny Gomes and cash. Cespedes, 28, made the All-Star team for the first time this year in his third season. He is hitting .256/.303/.464 with 17 homers and 67 RBIs in 101 games this year. Cespedes figures to start in right field for Boston at least in the short term with Shane Victorino injured.
--RHP John Lackey was traded along with minor league LHP Corey Littrell and cash to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for OF Allen Craig and RHP Joe Kelly. Lackey was 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA for the Red Sox this season. He also is 6-5 with a 3.03 record in 19 postseason appearances. "Lackey is a top-of-the-rotation starter," Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said.
--OF Allen Craig was acquired by the Red Sox along with RHP Joe Kelly in a deal that sent RHP John Lackey, minor league LHP Corey Littrell and cash to the Cardinals. Craig, 30, hit .315 with 13 homers and 97 RBIs for the Cardinals last season, but he is batting only .237 this year with seven homers and 44 RBIs in 367 at-bats. He might start in left field for Boston, with newly acquired Yoenis Cespedes filling in for injured RF Shane Victorino.
--RHP Joe Kelly was acquired by the Red Sox along with RHP Joe Kelly in a deal that sent RHP John Lackey, minor league LHP Corey Littrell and cash to the Cardinals. He fills one of the rotation spots vacated by the exits of RHP John Lackey and LHP Jon Lester. Kelly, 26, went 2-2 with a 4.37 ERA in seven starts for St. Louis this year.
--LHP Andrew Miller was traded from the Red Sox to the Orioles in exchange for minor league LHP Eduardo Rodriguez. Miller has allowed five hits in 53 at-bats against him since June 10, with left-handed hitters going 2-for-27 and righties 3-for-26. Baltimore now has four left-handed options out of the bullpen.
--LHP Eduardo Rodriguez was acquired by the Red Sox from the Orioles in exchange for LHP Andrew Miller. Rodriguez, 21, was 3-7 with a 4.79 ERA in 16 starts for Double-A Bowie this year.
--INF Stephen Drew was acquired by the Yankees from the Red Sox. He played shortstop in Boston but will join New York as a likely second baseman as New York planned to designate veteran Brian Roberts for assignment. Drew was dealt for light-hitting INF Kelly Johnson. Drew is batting .176 in 39 games in 2014.
--INF Kelly Johnson was dealt from the Yankees to the Red Sox in exchange for INF Stephen Drew. Johnson went on the disabled list July 23 due to a mild left groin strain. He is batting .219 with six home runs and 22 RBIs through 77 games this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Wishing my man Jon Lester all the best. Red Sox Nation and The Large Father will miss you." -- DH David Ortiz, on Twitter, after Boston shipped Lester to the Oakland A's on Thursday.
--RF Shane Victorino (sore hamstring) left the July 30 game for precautionary reasons.
--INF Kelly Johnson (Grade I left groin strain) went on the 15-day disabled list July 23.
--3B Will Middlebrooks (broken right index finger) went on the 15-day disabled list May 17. He began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket on June 14. The Red Sox shut him down from all baseball activities June 27 due to persistent swelling that negatively impacted his throwing. He resumed his rehab with Pawtucket on July 1. He was shut down again July 12-17 due to a left wrist strain, then started a new rehab assignment with Pawtucket on July 18. He is expected to be activated Aug. 1.
--C Ryan Lavarnway (left hamate wrist fracture) went on the 15-day disabled list May 30, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on June 5. He underwent surgery June 3. He began a rehab assignment in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League on July 18. He moved his rehab to Double-A Portland on July 21, then to Triple-A Pawtucket on July 25.
RHP Rubby De La Rosa
RHP Clay Buchholz
RHP Allen Webster
RHP Brandon Workman
RHP Joe Kelly
RHP Koji Uehara (closer)
RHP Junichi Tazawa
RHP Edward Mujica
LHP Craig Breslow
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Burke Badenhop
1B Mike Napoli
2B Dustin Pedroia
SS Xander Bogaerts
3B Brock Holt
DH David Ortiz
INF Will Middlebrooks
INF/OF Mike Carp
LF Allen Craig
CF Jackie Bradley Jr.
RF Yoenis Cespedes
OF Shane Victorino
OF Daniel Nava
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- John Lackey
- Yoenis Cespedes
- Jon Lester
- Jonny Gomes
- Kelly Johnson
- Shane Victorino