The Oakland Athletics won the Jon Lester sweepstakes, acquiring the left-hander and outfielder Jonny Gomes from the Boston Red Sox for slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes before Thursday’s trade deadline.
Oakland, with the best record in baseball at 66-41, also received cash from Boston in another blockbuster deal by A’s general manager Billy Beane. The Red Sox also get a draft pick in a deal confirmed by both teams.
A few hours later, the Red Sox traded their No. 2 starter, right-hander John Lackey, to the St. Louis Cardinals for right-hander Joe Kelly and outfielder Allen Craig, a person with knowledge of the deal said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because neither club announced that trade.
Lester is having an outstanding season with a 10-7 record and career-best 2.52 ERA in 21 starts. He’s allowed seven earned runs in his last eight games with 54 strikeouts and nine walks. But the Red Sox put him on the trading block because he can become a free agent after the season.
He was sought by many teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 30-year-old, three-time All-Star originally was scheduled to start Wednesday night for the slumping Red Sox, who instead scratched Lester ahead of the trade deadline.
After winning their third World Series in 10 seasons last year, with Lester getting two of the four wins with a 0.59 ERA against St. Louis, the power-poor Red Sox are last in the AL East with a 48-60 record. They had Thursday off after losing for the eighth time in nine games to drop 13 games behind first-place Baltimore.
While the Red Sox look toward next season, the A’s are determined to take the next step after losing in each of the past two Octobers in five-game division series to the Detroit Tigers. Oakland was off Thursday before returning home to begin a weekend series with the Kansas City Royals on Friday night.
It’s unclear what day Lester would start. Sonny Gray (12-3) is scheduled for Friday, but manager Bob Melvin has discussed the idea of giving some pitchers extra days between outings to keep them fresh in the second half.
Beane believes in starting pitching depth, and the A’s sure have it. Lester joins Gray, Scott Kazmir and recently acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, each dealt by the Chicago Cubs on July 4.
Gomes, a fan favorite who grew up in nearby Petaluma, provides Oakland with a veteran in the clubhouse who proved invaluable during the A’s run to the AL West title in 2012. The A’s reached the playoffs for the first time in six years.
He also was a respected clubhouse leader in Boston, which signed him as a free agent before last season. He’s hitting .234 with six homers and 32 RBIs in 78 games this season.
For Boston, this marks another big move of a starting pitcher to the Bay Area after Jake Peavy was traded to the San Francisco Giants on Saturday for two solid pitching prospects.
The 28-year-old Cespedes won the past two Home Run Derby titles at the All-Star game. The Cuban left fielder is in the third season of a $36 million, four-year contract he signed before spring training 2012. Cespedes is batting .256 with 17 homers and 67 RBIs, 26 doubles and three triples.
Speculation had centered on the Red Sox seeking prospects to add to their already deep farm system. That would have given them more young players to use in another deal for an established player, possibly a power-hitting outfielder.
They got that in Cespedes, whose 17 homers is the exact number hit this season by the nine Red Sox players who spent time in the outfield. And Gomes’ six was the most.
Lester has said leaving the Red Sox doesn’t rule out a return to the team next season.
He had said he would take a hometown discount to stay in Boston, but the team’s four-year, $70 million offer in spring training fell far short of what he could get on the open market.
Lester leaves his only pro baseball organization. The Red Sox drafted him in the second round in 2002. He made his major league debut on June 10, 2006 and got no decision in a 7-4 loss to the Texas Rangers. He won five of his next seven starts before taking his first loss in his 10th.
In his nine major league seasons, all with Boston, Lester is 110-63 with a 3.64 ERA. He’s also a proven postseason star with a 3-0 record in his two World Series. He pitched 5 2-3 shutout innings against the Colorado Rockies in the clinching fourth game in 2007.
His departure leaves the Red Sox with just two veteran starters and without a pitching ace. John Lackey and Clay Buchholz now head a rotation that includes Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Brandon Workman.
Felix Doubront began the season in the rotation but was ineffective and sent to the bullpen before being traded to the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday.
Boston’s minor league system is rich with pitching prospects, featuring right-handers Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes at Triple-A Pawtucket and left-handers Henry Owens and Brian Johnson at Double-A Portland.