LOS ANGELES — In his first at-bat as a Los Angeles Dodger, Adrian Gonzalez slammed a three-run home run into the right-field stands off Miami’s Josh Johnson. Immediately, the Dodgers’ most important trade ever began paying dividends.
However, there was more to the biggest trade in Los Angeles sports history than just getting a group of good players and their humongous contracts.
It was about sending a message to Dodgers fans and all of the baseball world — the new owners are serious. Really serious.
Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto and their nearly one-third of a billion dollars in salaries were acquired from the Boston Red Sox in a blockbuster deal the likes of which have never before been seen. Going to the Red Sox are James Loney, Ivan DeJesus and highly-regarded minor-league pitcher Allen Webster. The Dodgers will send two players to be named to Boston, one of them likely to be pitcher Rubby De La Rosa; the other could be outfielder Jerry Sands.
One of the members of the Guggenheim Baseball Management team, co-owner Earvin “Magic” Johnson, said this move and the others made in the past month were necessary not only to make the Dodgers a legitimate World Series threat, but also to repair a tattered public image leftover from the previous ownership.
“There have been some tough years,” Johnson said, “so when we got here, we had to say: ‘We want to win now, and we’re going to change the face of the Dodger team and organization. But you have to trust us and be patient with us.’ I think you see the results today.
“If there are players available that can help our team get better, then we will go after those players. And I think the fans now believe that we’ll do whatever we can within our power to bring a World Series championship to Los Angeles, to the Dodger fans.
“I’m very happy with the moves we made. When you can get an Adrian Gonzales — one of the best first basemen in baseball — and Josh Beckett, another All Star who pitched in big games, pitched in World Series and knows how to win those game, it’s huge. Carl Crawford was one of the most sought-after free agents just a few years ago, and in Nick we get a utility guy who we really need.
“We’re excited. We’re on the way up.”
The fans have certainly taken notice, giving Gonzalez a raucous ovation when he stepped onto the field to get ready for the game and again when he was introduced to the crowd along with Beckett and Punto. Crawford was unable to join his new — and old — teammates at Dodger Stadium because he had Tommy John surgery two days ago and will be out until at least April.
General manager Ned Colletti acknowledged that he first talked with his Red Sox counterpart, Ben Cherington, about a Gonzalez deal last April. The two sides couldn’t agree on a trade, but the seed had been planted. The big first baseman was put on waivers a few days ago, and the Dodgers were awarded the claim. But there’s been speculation that the Red Sox refused to make a deal unless the Dodgers took the contracts of Crawford and Beckett.
Asked about the accuracy of those rumors, Colletti didn’t deny them, saying no matter why they were now Dodgers, the team was very happy with their new members.
“When you look at it, it’s a baseball trade,” he said “and when you look at our starting rotation you can’t tell me we don’t need Josh Beckett. And you look at the career of Carl Crawford and what he’s accomplished, we’ll take those players any day.”
(Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley was put on the disabled list with elbow problems Saturday night.)
Beckett was having a miserable season in Boston, going 5-11 in 21 starts with a bloated 5.23 ERA. He was also portrayed as somewhat of the point man in the Red Sox collapse last September, when they blew the wild-card lead and failed to make the playoffs on the last day of the season. Beckett was accused of putting himself before his struggling team, drinking beer during games he wasn’t pitching and eating fried chicken, joined by teammate John Lackey. This spring, he was spotted on the golf course the same day he told management he was injured.
He was vilified in Boston all season long, and Colletti was asked if bringing in a player with his reputation could cause problems for a club scratching to make the postseason.
“In every environment, different things occur,” Colletti said. “The past is the past.
“I talked to him today, and he said it’s been a rough go for him there and he was looking forward to being here. I told him like I told Hanley Ramirez and like I told Manny Ramirez a few years ago — I don’t judge people by what other people say. I make my determinations on people by how they treat the game, how they treat the ownership, the manager, the coaching staff and the fans. I told Josh today that everybody starts here clean, and they’ll write their own story.”
Without a doubt, the Dodgers made a memorable trade that’s also a huge gamble once you get past Gonzalez and Punto. How big of a gamble won’t be known for a while, but the Dodgers are comfortable rolling the dice.
“The guys we got know how to play the game,” said Magic, a five-time NBA champion with the Lakers. “Josh won two World Series, and Adrian is an All Star. When Carl gets healthy, he’ll be dynamic for us. Life is a gamble. We’re confident this one will work out for us.”