BOSTON -- This is fantasy baseball, if the rotisserie version were played with hundreds of millions of dollars, playoff berths, civic prestige and professional reputations at stake.
Andrew Miller? We'll take a top-tier lefty prospect, the likes of 21-year-old Eduardo Rodriguez.
The Red Sox went to the World Series last season with a starting rotation anchored by Lester and Lackey and supplemented by, among others, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront. Lester, Lackey and Peavy combined to start five of the six games in the World Series, with Lester winning twice and Lackey pitching the clincher. Doubront pitched outstanding in relief.
In the span of five dizzying days, all four of those pitchers have been dealt: Peavy to the Giants last Saturday, Doubront to the Cubs on Wednesday, and Thursday morning Lester was dispatched to the Athletics and Lackey to the Cardinals in the biggest pair of deadline deals made by one club in years.
And after days of clubs claiming the Red Sox were looking for top prospects in return -- a message the Sox were themselves delivering -- Boston instead retooled its big league club with the acquisition not of maybes but of proven big league talent.
That list is headlined by Cespedes, a slugging outfielder with uncommon power and an untapped ceiling who immediately upgrades a Boston outfield that ranks among the weakest in club history (14 home runs combined in 2014). Kelly, 26, is a starting pitcher with a power sinker who missed 78 games this season with a strained hamstring but last October started Game 3 of the Series against the Sox.
Craig is a right-handed-hitting first baseman-outfielder whose numbers have declined significantly over the past two seasons, but he is young enough (turned 30 on July 18) and signed to a team-friendly contract. He will have a hard time finding playing time behind Mike Napoli at first and Cespedes in left. Craig batted a ridiculous .454 with runners in scoring position in 2013, which means he should help bolster the Sox's numbers in that category, where they’ve struggled mightily this year.
Still, the Sox paid a steep price in giving up Lester, adhering to their posture of not paying market value for an elite starter who is north of 30. Burned badly when they gave seven-year deals to Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, they have insisted those days are past. They’ve said there will be exceptions made, and a compelling argument can be made that Lester was a prime candidate to be one of those exceptions -- strong, durable, at the absolute top of his game. Think Andy Pettitte, whom Lester has often been likened to and who pitched into his 40s. Lester proved he could thrive in the crucible that is Boston and under the hot lights of October baseball.
Lackey, meanwhile, had made a remarkable recovery from Tommy John surgery and was signed for the major league minimum in 2015, per a clause in his contract that said if he missed a year due to an elbow injury, the Sox could tack a year onto the back end.
And then there was the bearded Gomes, who was the embodiment of the “Band of Brothers” clubhouse ethos that made the chaotic environment of 2012 a distant memory. Gomes was 2013’s Kevin Millar, an indispensable piece even if his skill set didn’t match that of some teammates. Less than a year later, he’s gone, too.