As the wise philosopher Ron Burgundy once put it: “Boy, that escalated quickly.”
In perhaps the most dizzying trade deadline ever, the American League erupted in an arms race in mere hours. First, my Oakland Athletics made a what-the-hell-but-it-makes-sense-when-you-cool-down trade with the Boston Red Sox, sending Yoenis Cespedes in exchange for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes. Lester, of course, almost guaranteed comes as just a rental for the playoffs, but given his exceptional stats this year and playoff gumption in Beantown he’s worth it. Gomes, a key part of Oakland’s youthful last-minute run to a division crown in 2012, returns with a fresh World Series ring in tow and a chance to get another by strengthening the outfield.
Of course, the immediate reaction was panic over losing Cespedes, who will be a free agent after 2015. Yes, he dazzled A’s fans with a highlight-reel glove and a bat that won back-to-back Home Run Derbies. But peel yourself away from those highlights, and the truth is that while he’s a dynamic player, he was still hitting in the .250 range, and brilliant plays don’t equal top fielding percentage. Considering how stellar Josh Reddick has been upon returning, as well as Oakland’s eye-popping run differential, they have enough depth to make up for Cespy’s absence. (Almost forgotten in this shuffle is the fact that the Twins benefited in a trade for once, acquiring lefty starter Tommy Milone for Sam Fuld, who has already made his presence felt in the reshuffled Oakland outfield.)
Only hours after that, however, came the biggest announcement of all: The Detroit Tigers, already stacked with aces, landing David Price in a three-team deal. I’m not going to even try to be neutral here: I hate, hate, hate that this deal happened the way it did, and I’ll take some space to explain just why. First, the more rational part. To put it simply, Tampa Bay didn’t come close to getting the return they needed for parting with the best pitcher in their young franchise history. Remember, the Royals had to send a package to the Rays that included Wil Myers just to get James Shields, so the crop for Price should have been even bigger. By all accounts, when the Rays were languishing in last, this was what they were rightly demanding from interested teams. My Dodgers, for example, would have likely had to deal both Joc Pederson and Corey Seager, a highly valuable outfielder and infielder who are among the best prospects in the entire game.
But then, an interesting thing happened along the way: The Rays started winning. Rather than complicate the decision of trading Price, I feel this helped make it clearer to keep him for the rest of the year. I know that may sound idiotic to some, but at this point Tampa makes last-season surges to the playoffs like most people drink coffee every morning. This was encapsulated last year when they had to win both Game 163 in Texas *and* the wild card playoff in Cleveland, with Price overcoming his Lone Star struggles in the former contest. Furthermore, it seemed like most teams weren’t going to bite due to the high return they’d have to cough up. Given the club’s penchant for making the playoffs, why not just hold on to him for the rest of the year and dangle him for trade during the offseason? Rather, they suddenly shipped him off at the last minute in a deal that didn’t require much sacrifice from the Tigers, who sent starter Drew Smyly to Florida and outfielder Austin Jackson to Seattle along with a couple of other components. But nothing on the level of a Wil Myers-led prospect influx, to be sure.
Thus, we come to the more trivial (but still undeniable for me) part of why I hate this trade: I simply don’t like that Detroit got him. While it admittedly makes sense to have him to cushion Max Scherzer’s highly likely departure this offseason, the Tigers already have a replete rotation with Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, a career-year Rick Porcello, and Justin Verlander. But it’s no surprise I hate to see this considering Detroit has become to the Athletics what the Yankees have been to the Twins for years. That is, the annoying, seemingly insurmountable adversary that gets in your head and seems to just stay there. They not only swept the A’s in the 2006 ALCS, but more recently (and more painfully) dealt them identical heartbreaks in the 2012 and 2013 ALDS, with Verlander effortlessly shutting Oakland down in their home stadium in game five both times. While I did of course take a unique inspiration in the triumph of Scherzer’s 2013 relief stand for my toughest college finals, the overall effect of the Motor City Kitties gaining such a grip on the A’s is frankly nauseating. I’m not only too familiar with this movie from the Yanks’ pounding the Twins four (yes, four) times in the ALDS, but the thought of David Price with an Olde English D in the ALCS this year alongside the rest is undeniably intimidating. Given the high stakes nature of the A’s season this year, the thought of a third straight dismissal is even more frightening.
Lastly, what compounds my dislike of all this even more is Verlander himself. Sure, his dominance of the A’s in game five doesn’t exactly put him next to Rod Carew and Sandy Koufax in my little world, but his irritating comments in reaction to the Samardzija trade weeks ago made him patently irritating, especially in the middle of a declining season that makes him the weak link of Detroit’s rotation. And don’t even get me started on him dating Kate Upton, which nauseatingly recalls A-Roid’s fling with Kate Hudson during the Yanks’ 2009 championship. As much as I would love for Scherzer, Torii Hunter, Brad Ausmus, and Joe Nathan to enjoy a parade, the thought of Verlander celebrating with a scantily clad Upton in tow makes me want to puke out my BJ’s pork ribs.
Of course, my stomach-churning stress over my favorite teams (and petty complaints over disliked ones) doesn’t trump what these two trades mean in the bigger picture of a thrilling season of baseball. In that view, they’re outstanding moves that instantly reshaped the course of the season. This recalls the great free agent wars of the Yankees and Red Sox heading into 2004, but those were played out over a whole offseason and saw Curt Schilling, Alex Rodriguez, and Keith Foulke get plump deals. This happened in less than 24 hours, and barring Jon Lester developing some kind of impenetrable bond with concrete, Mount Davis, and overflowing sewage, he’s only going to be a rental for the second half and the playoffs. That deal will either vindicate Billy Beane as the mad genius that inspired a book, a movie and a championship, or likely tar the reputation of Moneyball for good. But along with Dombrowski’s brilliance in Detroit (adding to the vindication of the Kinsler/Fielder trade), most baseball fans can salute both moves as classic all-or-nothing efforts for fanbases that haven’t seen a title since a “Ghostbusters” movie was in theaters. In any event, a thrilling spectacle in a year that, much like 2013, sees plenty of hungry franchises jockeying for the ultimate prize with relative parity.
Most of all, this trade will decide who wins the World Series, at least in my view. Sorry Dodgers, but with performances like this and this against AL opposition, I don’t see you stacking up too well against any of the murderer’s rows that will have home field advantage this October.