Bold GMs highlight of deadline day

Wow. What a day.

Who among us woke up Thursday morning saying to ourselves, "I bet that by the end of the day, David Price will be a Tiger and Jon Lester will be in Oakland?"

Anyone? Not even Miss Cleo, right?

But that's what trade deadline day 2014 brought us:

Two first-place teams reaching for the stars, trying to "ace" each other out.

Two of the best general managers in the business finding two other bold, creative GMs to do business with.

And two teams with win-the-World Series dreams that suddenly, shockingly, used the trading-deadline madness to transform themselves, almost literally overnight.

"That was incredible," said one NL executive. "That was great drama."

Remember three weeks ago, when Billy Beane and the A's swooped in and traded for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, and across the continent in Detroit, Justin Verlander's reaction was: "They made that trade for us?"

Well, there's no indication that when Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers answered the Lester deal by adding a third Cy Young winner to their ever-growing collection Thursday, they made that trade with the A's on their mind.

But we're allowed to think that way, whether it was on their mind or not. And even in other front offices, the admiration flowed at the sight of two sharp, visionary GMs doing their thing as well as it can be done.

"I tip my hat to Billy Beane," said another NL exec. "He's got a lot of guts to do what he did, and the same with Dave Dombrowski. You can't be scared if you're trying to win, and he's never scared. You utilize your scouting. You utilize your instincts. And you have to have the courage to make a move."

Beane did something in this deal that nobody I surveyed could ever remember: He was willing to trade away his cleanup hitter (Yoenis Cespedes) because he had a chance to get Lester. Amazing.

"I never heard of that," said an official of one AL team. "Ever."

But if you doubted whether the A's had an October-ready rotation a month ago, um, you don't have to wonder anymore: Lester (with his 2.11 career postseason ERA and 0.43 World Series ERA) ... Sonny Gray (who gave up just three runs in 13 innings in two starts against Detroit last October) ... Scott Kazmir (with seven postseason starts under his belt and now roaring through a career year) ... and Samardzija (who was supposed to be this team's marquee addition and now might be its Game 4 starter).

"To have four guys like that," said one exec, "it will be really tough to top."

No doubt. Unless they run up against the Tigers again, that is.

Detroit, incredibly, can start last year's AL Cy Young winner (Max Scherzer) in Game 1 and the previous year's Cy Young (Price) in Game 2 and then pitch the Cy Young from the year before that (Justin Verlander) in Game 3. Hmmm, that'll work.

And, just so you know, only one team in history before this one -- the 1997 Braves -- has ever had the winner of the previous three Cy Young awards in its rotation at the same time. (That Braves team, by the way, had the winner of the previous six Cy Youngs on the payroll, but that's a Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz story for another time.)

As another AL exec observed, though, the Tigers also have last year's ERA champ (Anibal Sanchez) to keep their Cy Youngs company, "so the manager's got some options," he laughed. "Let's put it that way."

The Tigers also left themselves a big hole by shipping off their center fielder, Austin Jackson, in this trade. And not many teams in go-for-it mode do that, either.

"But you know Oakland wasn't too thrilled giving up Cespedes in their deal," said one of the execs quoted earlier. "You've gotta do what you've gotta do."

Precisely. And that's what made these two trades so mesmerizing. How refreshing was it to run across two GMs who weren't looking for reasons not to do something? They got the right deal in their sights, then they found a way to work their magic. It was a clinic on trade-deadline shopping for the whole baseball world to see.

But now that we've got that out of the way, we've got a season to finish off. So let's get to the only questions about these two blockbusters that really matter:

Which of these two teams now has the better rotation? And which has the better team?

"I'm not sold on the third guy in Detroit, and by that I mean Verlander," said one of the NL execs quoted earlier. "But that said, I'll still take the Tigers. He's got history in October, and Samardzija really doesn't yet. So I'm going to take the experience."

"If Verlander gets going, they'll have a lights-out, lockdown rotation in Detroit," said another exec. "If everything sets up right, they'll be up 3-0 before the other team can take a deep breath -- even over Oakland. That pitching is going to shut down Oakland's offense."

On the other hand, you could easily argue the A's have the better lineup and bullpen now. But is that what wins in October?

Obviously, these two teams were telling us exactly what they think wins in October -- with the kind of trades they made on deadline day.

It was highly unusual, after all, to see both of them actually subtracting offense in these deals. Who does that, unless you're trading for the ultimate October difference-makers -- true, dominating, No. 1 starters?

"They don't have the same lineups today that they had yesterday," said one exec. "But it doesn't matter. In October, it's going to come down to pitching anyway."