Game Change: The Biggest (and best?) Trade in Red Sox History

I haven’t written about sports in a good long while, and certainly not about the Red Sox (for obvious reasons), but this trade was so monumental, and more importantly SUCH GOOD NEWS, that I have to weigh in.

Here’s the official breakdown:

That’s right. The biggest single movement of player contracts in sports history. The Red Sox sent the Dodgers a mere $11 million in “cash considerations”, whatever the fuck that means. I look at it like a tip. “Thanks for taking all this salary off our hands! Here’s some gratuity.” I’m still shocked the Dodgers just up and absorbed every penny of those contracts. I’m waiting for the deal to be reversed because it was discovered Dodgers GM Ned Colletti was drunk when he signed off on it. Or he was under hypnosis. Something to explain it. I mean, the only way this deal could’ve been better is if they’d also gotten L.A. to take John Lackey off our hands, too. Usually, when the Red Sox have to dump a bad contract, they end up paying at least half of that player’s salary even while he plays on another team (they did this in recent years for Edgar Renteria, Julio Lugo and most recently, Kevin Youkilis). I would have been ecstatic if the Sox had been able to get rid of ONE of these contracts this offseason, but to get rid of all of them before this season is even over seemed unthinkable last week. It would have been the punchline to a bad joke (“What did the Dodgers say to Ben Cherington when he asked them to take the Crawford, Gonzalez and Beckett contracts off his hands?” “Yes, but only if we get to send you some of our best prospects, too!” Ba dum bum!).

The Sox now have less than $75 million in committed payroll for the 2013 season. With Daisuke Matsuzaka also coming off the books after this season, John Lackey will be the only dead weight left. This time last week, the payroll was at between $191-195 million, which is fucking disgusting. It was the highest ever for this organization. We had become the Yankees, and I despised it. At least the Yankees get division titles year after year with their spending. The first time we come close to hitting $200 million, we’re probably gonna have a losing record and miss the playoffs by 10 fuckin games. THIS is what flushing money down the toilet looks like.

The Carl Crawford contract is one of the worst in all of baseball, and easily Theo Epstein‘s worst during his tenure as Red Sox GM (and there were a lot of bad ones). And by the way, I said that from Day 1, because the logic of it failed to click with me from the get-go. You were gonna pay a guy known primarily for his speed $20 million until he turned 36? What was Theo hoping…that he’d develop into a power hitter as he got older? Fat chance. And he’d never been a great on-base guy, either, so he really didn’t fit the Red Sox’s supposed plate strategy AT ALL. Terrible, terrible contract. I thought if the Sox were gonna trade Crawford one day (which would already be difficult because of his injury issues the past 2 years), they’d have to eat at least 75% of his salary. And the Dodgers willingly took all of it off our hands. THANK YOU!

The malaise of this 2012 team might have hit Josh Beckett the hardest. After being a Cy Young contender just one year ago, his stats this season with the Sox? A 5-11 record, a 5.23 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 98 strikeouts in 127.1 innings for a career-worst 6.6 K’s/9 innings. He’d only recorded 2 wins since May. What’s worse, he didn’t seem to give a singular shit. All that said, in a couple ways this is bittersweet. Prior to last summer, I was a big Josh Beckett fan. I thank him for his godly efforts in the 2007 playoffs that lead to our second World Series title in 4 years. I liked his take-no-shit attitude on the mound (before he seemingly mellowed out/stopped caring sometime last year), and after Curt Schilling left, he was my favorite pitcher on the staff. Regardless of that, the extension Theo gave him was awful, and he had to go. Jon Lester can now be the undisputed ace of the staff and refocus himself for a comeback season in 2013 (hopefully).

This leads us to Adrian Gonzalez. It now appears that Gonzalez was the key here. The Dodgers had been lusting after him since before he was traded to the Red Sox, and this perfect storm of the Sox sucking and the Dodgers seeing an opportunity to get him was likely the sole thing that allowed this deal to be consummated. The Dodgers want to win now, and the Red Sox needed a reset. Motive and opportunity, baby. The Dodgers wanted Gonzalez, and the Sox had the leverage to force the wild-spending new owners in L.A. to agree to just about anything. I have to admit though…I supported the Gonzalez signing, despite the price, because $20-25 million/year is what you have to pay now for top-tier first or third basemen. His potential, with Fenway as his home park, should have been 40+ HRs, 150+ RBI, .320+ avg and a 1.000+ OPS annually. With his talent (and more importantly, his tendencies as a hitter), that was doable. No one doubted it. His talents seemed perfectly suited to Fenway, but it now seems as though he was not built for the pressure of the Boston sports atmosphere, which often translates to a player’s on-field performance. Gonzalez had an okay first season with the Sox, but was hugely disappointing this year, and was thought to be one of the many players making life difficult for manager Bobby Valentine. As a Southern California native, Gonzalez should do just fine for the Dodgers going forward.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that all Boston-area teams need to take the “ability to handle Boston” into account with any player they choose to bring in, but especially the teams whose sports have fully guaranteed contracts. The Red Sox have long claimed they do take this into account, but that isn’t borne out by the results thus far. You have to be able to handle the passion of the fans, and you have to be able to handle the vultures in the Boston media. Perhaps no other fan in America expects results like the Boston sports fan. Athletes don’t have to worry about paparazzi or the media prying into their personal lives every day, but high-priced players will be held accountable for underperforming, no matter who you are. Not everyone can handle that, and those who can’t shouldn’t even consider signing there, because Boston has chewed up and spit out players of every caliber who couldn’t handle the spotlight. Carl Crawford wasn’t doing a good job handling it, and it appears Adrian Gonzalez wasn’t going to fare much better over the long term. Josh Beckett had shown he could handle the Boston pressure just fine, but his contract sucked, he wasn’t a good influence in the clubhouse, and he was on the decline from a performance standpoint, so he had to go for different reasons.

I didn’t like this team. They’ve been selfish, petty, and immature. They’ve alienated the fans. The front office decisions didn’t help, either. After running Terry Francona (the greatest manager in franchise history) out of town, their hand-picked replacement hasn’t changed the culture in the clubhouse at all. They’ve potentially ruined Daniel Bard by foolishly trying to make him a starter (which I also opposed from Day 1). It all SUCKS. None of the preseason or in-season trades worked out. They raised the payroll to astronomical highs, and haven’t gotten any results. Payrolls that huge come with expectations, and rightfully so. After this deal, things can change. Hope is restored.

What Now?

I’m wondering if, once the deal was finalized, everyone in the Red Sox front office was pouring champagne on each other and dumping Gatorade on Ben Cherington’s head in celebration. If not, they should have, because they deserve a victory lap. This is the biggest trade in Red Sox history, and it may eventually prove to be the most important one, too.

I know nothing about the prospects the Sox got. I just know in reading the various reaction pieces that this Rubby De La Rosa (FYI, that’s pronounced like Ruby) is considered a legit front-of-the-rotation talent, which is awesome. In fact, the Sox apparently got the top two pitching prospects in the Dodgers’ farm system. Goddamn I love this trade!

Here’s a quote from a Boston Globe article that got raised my antennas:

De La Rosa is the prize. He idolizes Pedro Martinez and wants to be a star. Throwing 96-100 miles per hour, he may be able to do that.

O RLY?

While this trade represents the Sox finally putting up the white flag on the 2012 season, the opportunities and flexibility it gives the team going forward should give fans comfort. Ben Cherington HAS to be excited. Free from all but one of Theo Epstein’s atrocious contracts after the season ends, he can now build the team he wants almost from scratch. They’ve still got John Lackey’s carcass on the books for 3 more years at $15.25M per, but it doesn’t look so bad now in the aftermath of this trade. Cherington went from a GM off to an unremarkable, even poor start to a goddamn hero overnight. Now he’s got to keep that momentum going. I’m not sure if this helps or hurts the chances of Bobby Valentine returning as manager next year. I’m not sure I really care. He seems to have done an OK job with what the hand he was dealt, but perhaps a complete restart is required next season, including wiping clean some of the coaching staff.

Ben Cherington’s reaction once the trade was approved by MLB.

The 2012 Red Sox had almost singlehandedly destroyed my interest in Major League Baseball, and now I have hope again. I know it’s an afterthought now, but for whatever reason I really hate the fact that they wasted the 100th anniversary year of Fenway Park like this. The Sox are sub-.500 at home for the first time since the mid-90’s. Of all the fuckin years to suck at Fenway. Drives me nuts. They owe the park, and the fans that pay good money to patronize it, much better going forward.

Can the Red Sox afford a $190 million payroll? Yes. That’s not the point, though. It’s the principle of it. You don’t NEED to spend that much money to win championships. You need great pitching and you need to get hot at the right time. And a little team chemistry doesn’t hurt, either. In the end, it really is that simple. Just ask the 2011 Cardinals and their $105.4 million payroll about that. Or the 2010 Giants ($97.8 million). This thing where you try and buy a championship with a collection of expensive talent rarely succeeds. It just pisses the fans off when you spend all that money and still fail miserably. Here’s to this deal signaling a new era of fiscal discipline with regards to future player acquisitions. Let the Yankees, Phillies, Tigers, and now the Dodgers play the megapayroll game. The 2001-2008 Yankees will tell you how that usually works out*.

Does this mean the Sox will be in the Josh Hamilton Sweepstakes this offseason? He’s the biggest free agent this winter, and has all the tools, but I don’t want to see some 10-year, $200 million atrocity of a deal just because we’ve got the payroll to spare. The good news is that thanks to Hamilton’s off the field issues and his injury history, he’ll likely have to settle for a contract far below what his statistics say he should get in today’s market. That puts the Sox in a good position to make a reasonable deal if they so desire, but all it takes is one team willing to overpay before reason gets shot to hell. And Red Sox fans oughtta know, since over the past 8 years or so, it’s often been our team willing to unnecessarily spend the extra buck to acquire a free agent. The other big possibility this presents is the chance for the Sox to re-sign Jacoby Ellsbury, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2013 season. Unfortunately for us, he’s a Scott Boras client, so there’ll be no hometown discount. I’m not sure where I fall on giving him a huge contract, mostly because of how brittle he’s been the last couple years. He’s great when you can get him on the field, but he seems to take a lot longer than necessary to recover from even the slightest issue, as if he’s been playing it safe just so he can get paid. That kinda bothers me. Regardless, you gotta prove it on the field again before you get paid, boy-o. If, in 2013, he can give us another 2011 season, then pay him. Until then, I say approach with caution.

As you can tell, I’m a fan of this trade. Red Sox management should be proud, the players should feel energized, and the fans should feel encouraged. The Dodgers may regret this move in a couple years, but really…who gives a shit?! Too late, done deal! No givesees backsees! BAHAHAHA!

WINNERS: The Boston Red Sox (2013 and beyond), Ben Cherington & his front office’s reputation, Jacoby Ellsbury & Scott Boras, Adrian Gonzalez

LOSERS: The Los Angeles Dodgers (unless they win the World Series in the next couple years), Theo Epstein’s reputation (which can now only be redeemed if the Cubs win a World Series under his watch, at which point he’s a god again)

*Between 2001 and 2009, when they finally won World Series #27, the New York Yankees spent $1.572 Billion-with-a-B in player salaries. Since the John Henry ownership group took over in Boston in 2002, the Red Sox have spent $974 million in player salaries to win two World Series and not even make the playoffs several times. Worth it? You decide.

Some interesting reaction pieces:

Gordon Edes from ESPN Boston was all over the story from the beginning. [A full reboot.]

-ESPN’s always great baseball man Jayson Stark
also reacted.

-Of course, Bill Simmons reacted over on Grantland.

-SI’s Tom Verducci breaks down the winners and losers in the deal.

-WEEI’s Rob Bradford has a behind the scenes blow-by-blow of how it all went down.

I especially loved this:

“Excellent move by Boston,” said Yankees GM Brian Cashman. “Unfortunately.”

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