Now that’s how you do deadline day.
On Thursday, the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics both pulled off blockbuster deals, acquired the top two starting pitchers on the market, officially positioning themselves as co-favorites to make the World Series in the American League.
The Athletics fired the first shot, acquired Jon Lester – who will be a free agent at the end of the season – from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes. Then, just before the 4 p.m. deadline, the Tigers responded with a three-way deal that landed them David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Let’s look at what this all means for the final two months of the regular season, and beyond.
Oakland Goes For Broke…But Detroit Does Too
The A’s are 66-41 and owners of the best record in all of baseball. But they’re only two games up on the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West. Both of these teams will likely make the playoffs, but one of them will get in as a division winner while the runner-up will have to play in the dreaded one-game playoff, where anything goes.
Athletics general manager Billy Beane – you might know him as the Moneyball guy – made the move to acquire Lester to not only stave off the Angels, but because he knows how important pitching is in the postseason: The A’s have made the playoffs seven times since 2000, and lost in the Division Series six times. In all six of those series, they’ve lost in a deciding fifth game, and Detroit’s Justin Verlander has eliminated them the last two years.
Beane is well known for exploiting market inefficiencies in order to build a contender on a shoestring budget, but he’s also famous for saying “my shit doesn’t work in the playoffs” because the baseball postseason is set up as a crapshoot, where dominant teams can be swallowed-up by the small sample size.
Well, this year, he’s leaving no margin for error, especially when it comes to his starters. If the Athletics need someone to win a deciding game for them, they’ll have Lester, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir or Jeff Samardzija (whom he traded for last month) to choose from.
As for the Tigers; by acquiring Price, they now have the last three AL Cy Young Award winners in their rotation. Along with Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello, they have arguably a better rotation than what Beane has constructed in Oakland, and they didn’t have to give up a big bat to build it. Too bad their bullpen is a disaster.
It would be fun to see these two teams match-up in the playoffs, and it’ll be brutal to see at least one of them come up short in their all-in bid to win the World Series, though that seems to be the case. Welcome to the American League Arms Race.
The Quarter-Million Dollar Arm
I love out of rags-to-riches sports stories. So I have to tell you about Brandon Poulson, a 24-year-old pitcher who spent this summer dealing for the Healdsburg Prune Packers (what a name) of the Golden State Collegiate Baseball League.
Poulson, an undrafted free agent, has a fastball that reaches 100 mph on the radar gun but slipped through the cracks because he rarely pitched during high school and spent some time away from the game to work at his dad’s excavation company.
At junior college, Poulson started pitching again (he had an 8.38 ERA for the Academy of Art University). The Minnesota Twins were tipped to Poulson’s story, sent a scout to check him out, and signed him to a $250,000 contract.
He’s slated to pitch in the minor leagues this weekend.
Hey Disney, how about a movie called The Quarter-Million Dollar Arm? In theaters, summer of 2015.