About a week ago, a major league source told me the Boston Red Sox only would trade first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in a “transformative” deal.
Well, the Red Sox certainly will be transformed now. The Los Angeles Dodgers, too.
The Dodgers will be the New York Yankees of the West. And the Red Sox surrender, at least temporarily, in their own self-defeating arms race with the Yankees in the East.
August generally is a time when trades are difficult to complete; players must pass through waivers, and almost all but the high-priced types are blocked. But the trade between the Red Sox and Dodgers is one of the biggest blockbusters in major league history.
The Dodgers get Gonzalez, right-hander Josh Beckett, left fielder Carl Crawford and infielder Nick Punto.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, get top pitching prospect Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, first baseman James Loney, infielder Ivan DeJesus Jr. and outfielder Jerry Sands.
The amount of money going from the Red Sox to the Dodgers is only $12 million, according to a major league source — a relative pittance, considering that the four new Dodgers will be owed more than $250 million after this season.
In fact, the deal looks somewhat bizarre from the Dodgers’ perspective, according to rival executives. As one asked Friday night: Why didn’t the Dodgers just do Gonzalez for Webster and De La Rosa?
In that case, perhaps the Red Sox would have backed off if the Dodgers refused to take their other bad contracts.
But another executive, referring to the $106.8 million that Crawford is owed from 2013 to ’17 said, “I get Adrian and Beckett. But Crawford’s money?”
And a third said, “If you had $250 million to spend, is this how you’d do it?”
Beckett, while one of the American League’s top pitchers last season, has performed poorly this season and remains a health risk. Crawford, coming off Tommy John surgery, also is a health concern, and his contract is considered one of the biggest albatrosses in baseball.
The money is one issue, but there are others. Beckett and Crawford had to waive no-trade rights to approve the deal; neither balked at their respective get-out-of-jail-free cards from Boston. Beckett should benefit from the move to a pitcher-friendly park in a pitcher-friendly league. Crawford should be more comfortable as a complementary part in Los Angeles than he was under the constant glare of Boston.
Think about it: The Dodgers’ outfield, once Crawford recovers from his Tommy John, would consist of Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. De La Rosa, one of the pitchers going to the Sox, nearly has completed his recovery from his own Tommy John; the Dodgers had just promoted him before the trade agreement was reached.
So in the end, what is this about?
For the Dodgers, getting Gonzalez, a player they long have coveted, even at the added expense of absorbing the stifling contracts of Crawford and Beckett.
For the Red Sox, a back-to-the-future approach in which they rededicate themselves to developing young talent rather than trying to buy every available big name.
Gonzalez was not the Red Sox’s problem, even if he might be something of a clubhouse lawyer, even if his phone was the source of the infamous text message to ownership requesting a clear-the-air session to complain about manager Bobby Valentine. But A-Gon is owed $127 million from 2013 to ’18, and considering his dropoff in power this season, that will not necessarily be money well spent.
The Phillies blew it when they refused to take advantage of a similar waiver claim earlier this month and move the declining, soon-to-be-34-year-old Cliff Lee and the $90 million-plus left on his contract to the Dodgers (though the Dodgers were on Lee’s no-trade list, the Phillies did not push the issue).
Gonzalez, 30, is younger than Lee, but also showing signs of regression. True, he entered Friday with the sixth-highest OPS of any first baseman in the majors. But his home runs the past four seasons have declined from 40 to 31 to 27 to 15 (with 37 games remaining). His current .469 slugging percentage would be the lowest for any full season in his career.
The Red Sox, forever PR-conscious, acquired Gonzalez and Crawford during the 2010-11 offseason in part to enhance the team’s appeal on its regional television network, NESN. But Friday forever will be remembered as the day the franchise — 66-86 since last Aug. 31 — woke up.
This can only be Step One; the Sox still need to fire manager Bobby Valentine to appease their veterans who can’t stand playing for him. At least now, though, the Red Sox have regained flexibility — something they had lost by spending so poorly in recent years.
Not that flexibility is the entire answer, given that few impact players hit the open market these days. While the Sox will reap massive financial benefits by getting under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold by 2014, the new labor agreement limits spending on both domestic and international amateurs. What will be the point of the Sox saving all of that money, particularly when star-quality impact talent is difficult to acquire?
It’s a fair question. And Gonzalez, for all of his struggles earlier this season, still might be the kind of player that any team would covet; he has batted .355 with a .954 OPS in 223 plate appearances since June 22.
Then again, viewed from another perspective, Gonzalez is trending toward becoming the Red Sox’s version of the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira, a useful but overpaid slugger. And the Sox, in addition to clearing hundreds of millions, did acquire two talented young pitchers in this deal.
The Sox’s young core already is promising. Left-hander Felix Doubront and third baseman Will Middlebrooks performed well this season. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway could emerge as a quality major leaguer. Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and shortstops Jose Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts represent the next wave.
How much worse would the Sox be if they built around such youngsters? They could re-sign Jacoby Ellsbury, a potential free agent after next season, or trade him for more starting pitching. And they probably could come close to replacing the 2012 version of Gonzalez; first basemen always are in plentiful supply.
No, the Sox wouldn’t compete with the Yankees or even the Tampa Bay Rays immediately, but their overzealous participation in the AL East arms race is how they got into this position in the first place – and a good number of their fans can’t stand what they’ve become.
Trading Gonzalez could be an overreaction. These Red Sox merit an overreaction.