Drew Smyly and Jarred Cosart and Justin Masterson and Tommy Milone were traded Thursday, and in a normal season, that may have represented the total exchange of starting pitchers taking place at the nonwaiver trade deadline. Heck, Masterson was once an All-Star, so that’s a pretty newsworthy deadline day.
But this year was different. A former Cy Young winner, subject of trade rumors for more than a year, finally moved on. A pitcher who twice has won the final game of a World Series switched sides. And the ace of the defending world champions was sent cross-country.
It was a remarkable display of trigger-pulling, of reshaping both leagues’ pennant races in the space of six hours, especially considering the exorbitant price that top-of-the-line starting pitching carries these days. The Tigers, after all, surrendered their leadoff hitter, center fielder Austin Jackson, and one of their best minor league prospects to acquire David Price from the Rays. The Cardinals sent a pair of quality players, outfielder Allen Craig and pitcher Joe Kelly, to Boston to acquire John Lackey, just hours after they picked up Masterson from the Indians. And in an almost unprecedented move, the Athletics sacrificed their cleanup hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, to secure Jon Lester from the Red Sox.
That’s a staggering amount of pitching talent to move in a year, not to mention in a single day, and some pretty steep asking prices. Even if you’re willing to make a blockbuster trade, something that’s not easy for most general managers to do, having the right pieces to return in trade isn’t so easy, either. Just ask the Twins how hard it is to add a true ace to your pitching staff; they haven’t had one since they traded Johan Santana seven years ago.
But here’s the mind-boggling part of Thursday’s great trade deadline: It’s all so temporary. The A’s and Tigers have made bold moves, sent away valuable assets and put together superstar rotations, all for a three-week stretch (they hope) in October. It’s likely that neither foursome will be together next year, and there’s almost certainly going to be another reshuffling of great starting pitchers this winter.
The bounty of ace-quality starters available in November figures to be particularly strong. The biggest prize will be 2013 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, who turned down $144 million from Detroit during spring training in order to test the market this fall. Lester is virtually certain to stay only two months in Oakland, which doesn’t have the resources to pay a pitcher who will command a contract of more than $100 million once he’s a free agent. James Shields of the Royals can seek the highest bidder once the season ends, too. The Phillies, who declined to trade lefthander Cole Hamels at the deadline, will have plenty of suitors if they change their stance this winter.
And the bidders on all that pitching could be intriguing as well. The Red Sox, having unloaded Lackey, Lester, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront in one week, will undoubtedly be spending on veteran pitching. The Yankees, with a rotation that mostly spent the season on the injury list, won’t be shy about writing checks. The Dodgers and Giants may have the cash to add another ace, and the Tigers could too, if Scherzer walks away. And speculation is growing that the Cubs intend to make a splash with a big-name pitching acquisition.
All of which just emphasizes what gambles Billy Beane, Dave Dombrowski and John Mozeliak — the general managers of the A’s, Tigers and Cardinals, respectively — took on Thursday in hopes of winning the 2014 World Series. They traded away a lot to beef up their pitching — and they may be just a few months from saying, “We don’t have enough pitching — again.”