Monday, August 27, 2012

Red Sox and Dodgers Drop the Big One

By Jeff Kallman

You thought Bobby Thomson, Bill Mazeroski, Chris Chambliss, Joe Carter, Steve Finley, and David Freese have hit shots heard 'round the world? What the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers hit this weekend makes those shots resemble squib singles.

That was Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto winging their way across country Saturday morning. (Punto squeezed a shot of the three jubilant now-ex-Red Sox aboard their flight and posted it on Twitter post haste, when they were barely off the ground.) Along with Carl Crawford, recuperating from Tommy John surgery earlier last week, they went to the Dodgers for James Loney (1B), Rubby De La Rosa (pitcher), Allen Webster (pitcher), Ivan DeJesus (infielder), and Jerry Sands (outfielder).

The word first passed Friday afternoon, with the only known possible snag being whether Beckett (with concurrent 10-5 rights) and Crawford would waive their no-trade clauses. The movement got more serious when Gonzalez and Loney were pulled from the starting lineups of the teams' Friday night games, a couple of hours before game times. Come 10:30 PDT Saturday morning, the Los Angeles Times sent the confirmation forth.

It's the first deal in major league history in which two players (Gonzalez and Crawford) making $100 million or more to come went from one team to another and to the same team in the bargain.

The Dodgers apparently weren't shy about taking on more salary in an all-in philosophy their new owners have taken up since buying the team from the Bickering Bickersons — er, Frank and Jamie McCourt. Chairman Mark Walter said as late as last Wednesday they could "still take on significant money," Times reporters Dylan Hernandez and Steve Dilbeck wrote, and that was before anyone thought the signficiant money would mean Gonzalez, Crawford, and Beckett.

Loney once looked like a Dodger fixture at first base for a long time to come but his slippage in the past two seasons finally wore down the front office and manager Don Mattingly, though Mattingly has made a point of speaking strictly in terms of Loney's on-field performance and not his effort. De La Rosa and Webster have been considered pitching prospects with enough upside — De La Rosa tops high 90s on the gun; Webster is considered a powerful sinkerballer — that the Dodgers had actually deemed them untouchable at this year's non-waiver trade deadline.

The Red Sox, for their part, aren't ready to call the deal a sign that they're going to blow up and/or re-build the Red Sox just yet. The most common word about the deal, according to ESPN's Gordon Edes, is "reset," as in button. "If it happens," Edes quoted a "high-ranking Red Sox official" as saying late Friday night, when the deal seemed only to be awaiting Crawford and Beckett waiving their no-trade clauses, "it will give us enormous flexibility to build a new winning team. This is certainly not a timid decision. But we needed to push the reset button."

It's also beginning to sound more as though the Red Sox put Gonzalez into the package as insurance that they'd find takers for Crawford and Beckett, the latter in particular. Even Bobby Valentine — the target of the long-enough infamous text mutiny that began with a message sent from Gonzalez's cell phone, a message Gonzalez merely facilitated but didn't write, from all indications since — speaks warmly of Gonzalez: "I haven't been around more of a professional, good guy, terrific player as him in a long time — if ever."

If only the Red Sox didn't have such a pronounced—and, considering the purgings earlier this year of Kevin Youkilis and Kelly Shoppach, immediate — history of ridding themselves of whistleblowers . . .

Edes seems to agree, though, that making a sacrificial lamb of Gonzalez, who was leading the majors in batting with men in scoring position before he was pulled from Friday night's lineup as the deal looked done, was the part falling under the heading of "if we must, we must" when most was said and done:

"Sacrificing Gonzalez, whom they still regarded more as part of the solution than the problem, was the price they had to pay for getting out from under the $135 million or so still owed to Beckett and Crawford. It was almost inconceivable they would find a team willing to take on both salaries, especially given the injury history of both players and their subpar performances. The Dodgers were that team.

"In one trade, the Red Sox eliminated nearly $60 million in guaranteed money from their 2013 payroll, a number that shrank from roughly $107 million to $47 million, according to numbers provided by Baseball Prospectus. What they do with that flexibility, of course, will ultimately determine how history will judge this deal. Rebuild? That word still does not exist in [team president Larry] Lucchino's vocabulary. "Reset" is the operative principle here."

It sounds a little like the scenarios offered up before the non-waiver trade deadline, when the Texas Rangers were thought to have strong interest in Beckett but wanted, possibly, Jacoby Ellsbury in the package.

However, unloading the salary burden they've just unloaded (the Dodgers are taking on over 90 percent of the ex-Red Sox's salaries) lines the Red Sox up for a possible play at Tampa Bay's James Shields, who becomes a free agent at season's end. And if John Lackey returns successfully from Tommy John surgery, they could — if Lackey performs well enough early in 2013—flip him for prospects at next year's non-waiver deadline.

The rotation rebuilding also begins with unloading Beckett, the tenacious right-hander who'd been a big factor in their 2007 World Series run and subsequent playoff drives, but who'd graduated from a solid to a toxic influence off the mound. The rebuild elsewhere probably begins with unloading Gonzalez, whom they may not really have wanted to lose, and Crawford, whom we now know has been playing hurt from the day he put on a Red Sox uniform and foolishly kept it up, until he finally needed Tommy John surgery, because he feared being tagged as a quitter.

The Dodgers get a first baseman who still has upside to burn in Gonzalez. Crawford could be back on the field early in the 2013 season and he may find playing Dodger Stadium's outfield a little more to his liking than playing Fenway's. Beckett, who began his career in the National League with the Florida Marlins, could find himself rejuvenated in a pitcher-friendly home park. Punto, a utility infielder, is considered a so-so bat but a jack-of-all-trades defender who gives the Dodgers options to burn around the horn.

The Red Sox don't get mere salary relief out of it. The Olde Towne Team now has the flexibility to chase a bat like Josh Hamilton, re-sign Ellsbury for the long term, and possibly secure David Ortiz for more than the single-year deals that have rankled the veteran DH, though it's not likely the Red Sox would offer more than two years considering Ortiz's age and injury history.

They get a good-looking utility infielder in DeJesus, who didn't get much opportunity to strut with the parent Dodgers, though he played well at AAA while moving around five positionsm including corner outfielding. (Yes, ladies and gentlemen — he's the son of the one-time major leaguer who went to the Phillies in the deal that made a Cub out of a Phillie newborn and future Hall of Famer … a newborn named Ryne Sandberg.) Sands could be an outfielder of the future for the Red Sox unless they need him as trade bait: he has a modest jacket in his few major league at-bats but he was hitting for a .911 OPS with 24 home runs and 101 runs batted in at AAA when the deal was made.

Are the Red Sox finished playing with the reset button? That remains to be seen. (From the Boston Herald: "This is a master stroke for rookie general manager Ben Cherington, who in one waiver trade will create enough financial flexibility to remake the roster almost any way he sees fit.")

Knowing their season is lost, they've removed an 18-ton salary truck parked on their heads. They may yet decide to remove another element or three responsible for the continuing toxicity in the clubhouse. One of which might be the manager they shouldn't have hired in the first place.

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