OAKLAND -- Jon Lester may have no bigger fan in baseball than Billy Beane.
Proof was forthcoming Thursday morning when the A's general manager broke up the middle of the top-scoring lineup in baseball by sending left fielder Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox for Lester, a starting pitcher Beane calls a "true No. 1 starter."
The A's prided themselves on having three No. 1s in Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray. When Lester was added, they all took half a step back.
"It was all about Jon Lester," Beane said. "He's one of the best at his position. He's a legitimate No. 1 starter, and those guys are hard to come by at any time."
The acquisition of Lester, who was 4-1 in the postseason last year including two wins in the World Series, could be seen as setting up the A's for a deep run into the playoffs.
Beane, whose team has the best record in baseball (66-41) but only a two-game edge in the American League West over the Angels (64-43), the team with the second-best record, said that wasn't it at all.
"Respectfully, we've got a lot of work to do to win this division," he said. "It's pretty well documented he's pretty good at his position. And he's pitched in the biggest game of the year. But we've got to make it through the division.''
Beane said he wanted to do everything he could to make sure the A's win the West and not have to win a one-game wild card playoff to advance. Baseball being baseball, anything can happen in one game.
"It's really easy not to look ahead," he said. "You want to win the division. You want to avoid a one-game playoff situation. You want to get out of that one game."
Lester is a free agent at the end of the season, and probably will be too pricey for Oakland. A lifer in the Red Sox organization, he said last week he'd be open to re-signing with Boston in the offseason.
In a tweet to thank the Boston fans, Lester said, " ... excited to contribute to a very talented Athletics team.''
On the other side, Cespedes' contract is up after the 2015 season, and it's unlikely Oakland would have had the wherewithal to bring him back, That meant trading one of the club's most visible players became a real option.
The A's also got former Oakland outfielder Jonny Gomes and about $1 million back from Boston, then later in the day shipped minor league starter Tommy Milone to Minnesota for center fielder Sam Fuld, who began this season with the A's. Fuld will play center until Coco Crisp (neck) and Craig Gentry (broken right hand) return. Gomes will be in a left field platoon with Stephen Vogt.
While Vogt and Gomes together likely won't produce the same power numbers (17 homers, 67 RBIs) Cespedes did, both are near-.400 on-base percentage guys, Gomes against left-handed pitching and Vogt against right-handers. The A's would like to believe that kind of on-base presence means their overall offense won't drop off too much.
A's catcher Derek Norris said he understood the thinking of a deal that cost Cespedes, a strong-armed outfielder who was hitting .256.
"Cespy is a great player," Norris said. "Obviously, Billy wanted to shore up the back end of the rotation. And we got a couple of good clubhouse guys.''
Gomes in 2012 and Fuld this spring both were popular with their teammates in Oakland. And Lester always has been among the most popular of the Red Sox pitchers.
"Billy saw some opportunities to shift people in the outfield," Norris said. "Billy's known for setting off some fireworks. And he's solidified some holes.''
A's owner Lew Wolff said the club is better now than before the trades.
"I'm very pleased at what we've done," Wolff told this newspaper. "It's all been well thought out by Billy and his people. It will be exciting for the fans.
"It's difficult to have somebody leave. Yoenis is a terrific person. But we have traded something quite good for something quite good that we're getting back. And we're getting Sam Fuld, a player we never wanted to give up.''
Lester, Gomes and Fuld will be in Oakland uniforms on Friday. Lester will get his first start with the A's on Saturday against the Kansas City Royals.
Lester ranks second all time with a 0.43 ERA in the World Series. He was 3-0 in helping Boston to two titles (2007, 2013).
CESPEDES KEY NUMBER
The A's had a .635 winning percentage (228-131) in games that Cespedes started over his two-plus seasons.
THE BLOCKBUSTER In dealing away All-Star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, the A's gave up a big bat for an ace in Jon Lester and a likely platoon outfielder in Jonny Gomes.
TO OAKLAND W-L ERA IP SO BB
LHP Jon Lester 10-7 2.52 143.0 149 32
TO OAKLAND AVG R HR RBI OPS
OF Jonny Gomes .234 22 6 32 .683
TO BOSTON AVG R HR RBI OPS
OF Yoenis Cespedes .256 62 17 67 .767
FULD RETURNS The A's granted Tommy Milone his wish, trading the recently demoted starter to Minnesota for versatile outfielder Sam Fuld, who began the season in Oakland.
TO OAKLAND AVG R HR RBI OPS
OF Sam Fuld .263 20 2 21 .722
TO MINNESOTA W-L ERA IP SO BB
LHP Tommy Milone 6-3 3.55 96.1 61 26