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Why the Red Sox-Dodgers Blockbuster Is the Biggest Trade in Baseball History

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Why the Red Sox-Dodgers Blockbuster Is the Biggest Trade in Baseball History
Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE
Was Adrian Gonzalez involved in the biggest trade in MLB history?

Perhaps it's too soon to judge, though we certainly like to render a verdict quickly in this era of instant analysis and opinion.

Was the blockbuster trade between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers—involving nine players and more than $260 million in salaries—the biggest transaction in baseball history?

Big contracts have been moved before. Multiple players have changed teams in past deals. But nothing like what we've seen here. This sets a new precedent. It redefines the term "blockbuster."

Prior to this, I always considered baseball's biggest trade to be the deal between the Toronto Blue Jays and San Diego Padres before the 1991 season. Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez provided the Padres with two star players. But Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar went to Toronto, eventually leading the Blue Jays to two World Series championships. 

That trade certainly tipped the balance of power in the American League of the early 1990s, giving the Blue Jays two crucial pieces of a two-time World Series winner.

However, nowhere near the same amount of money was involved in that deal with the Padres. The same number of players weren't moved between the two teams. And neither club underwent the franchise overhaul that the Dodgers and Red Sox will each experience as the result of their trade. 

This deal sets a new precedent. It redefines the term "blockbuster." We may never see anything like it again, or at least for many years to come. 

What made this deal so memorable? What circumstances needed to come together in order for the trade to happen? What elements set it apart from any other deal baseball has ever seen? How much did the fortunes of each team have to change for this trade to even be considered? 

Here are the various factors that made the Red Sox-Dodgers trade one we may never forget, one that all other so-called blockbusters will be compared to from here on out.

 

Must Be the Money

When I tried to explain to friends and family who don't follow baseball closely why this trade was such a big deal, the money involved is what got through to them.

(Naturally, that led to questions about how baseball players can make so much money. But at least these people now understood why this trade was so significant.) 

Adrian Gonzalez has $127 million remaining on his contract. Carl Crawford is set to be paid $102.5 million through 2017. Josh Beckett is owed $31.5 million over the next two years. We probably shouldn't forget Nick Punto and his $1.5 million, though it's easy to do so. 

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE
The Dodgers' new ownership group has quickly made a huge impact.

The Dodgers willingly took on more than $260 million in player salaries. The Red Sox not only had that money on their payroll but managed to move it. It's the first time in baseball history that two players with $100 million contracts were included in the same deal. 

Somehow, despite the gargantuan amount of dollars involved in this trade, it all came together in less than 24 hours.

Even if the Red Sox and Dodgers talked about a deal for Gonzalez before the July 31 trade deadline, as ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes reported, those discussions supposedly never got past the preliminary stages. Just how much of the skeleton of this deal was established nearly a month ago, and how much was built once Gonzalez was claimed on waivers by the Dodgers on Friday (Aug. 24)?

How quickly did the Dodgers agree not just to take on Gonzalez's contract but then the other $135 million that came with Beckett and Crawford (and, oh yes, Punto)? Was there any blinking among Colletti and the Dodgers' new ownership group? 

 

1 Team Rises While Another Falls

What's the bigger subplot to this trade, the fall of the Boston Red Sox or the rise of the Los Angeles Dodgers?

Obviously, that depends on your viewpoint. Red Sox fans are probably still in shock that their team was demolished in the span of 24 hours. Dodgers fans are likely still high with the thrill of seeing their team's new owner follow through on the promise of big spending and championship ambitions. 

The crumbling of the Red Sox goes back at least to last September when Boston blew a nine-game lead in the wild-card standings and was knocked out of postseason consideration on the final day of the 2011 regular season.

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
Firing Terry Francona ended an era for the Boston Red Sox.

(As my fellow MLB Lead Writer Zach Rymer explained in great detail, the sequences of events that led to this implosion go back much further.) 

The end of an era seemed to begin with the firing of manager Terry Francona. He was made a disgraced scapegoat after leading the Red Sox to two World Series championships. Bobby Valentine was hired as his replacement and almost immediately caused friction with his players. Kevin Youkilis, a key component of those championship teams, had declined noticeably and was traded to the Chicago White Sox.

Rumors of a simmering player revolt against Valentine were a persistent storyline in the Boston and national press. Players called meetings with ownership to voice their displeasure. The front office and ownership decided the situation was irrevocable and that a toxic clubhouse needed to be cleaned out. As if playing a video game, the Red Sox hit the reset button, immediately beginning a new era. 

Though the Dodgers' rocket-like return to prominence seemingly began in March when the Guggenheim Baseball Management group led by Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson took over ownership of the team, the team first had to fall before it could rise again.

That descent probably began when Frank McCourt bought the Dodgers in 2003. As this Los Angeles Times slideshow illustrates, McCourt used the team to fund his absurdly lavish lifestyle to the point where he drove the franchise into bankruptcy. The Dodgers had to be rescued from him. 

Ever since new ownership took over, the team has steadily rebuilt itself. Andre Ethier was given a five-year, $85 million contract extension. Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Brandon League were acquired at the July 31 trade deadline.

The Dodgers realized they could use their massive payroll to take on massive contracts that teams no longer wanted. That was the commodity used to quickly build a championship contender. There was no waiting, no slow build. Whether this approach will work remains to be seen. 

 

This Was a Waiver Trade?

Perhaps the most surprising aspect to this trade was when it took place.

Deals of this magnitude, with so many moving parts, contractual considerations and budget concerns, typically take place during the offseason, when there's much more time to plan and work out the details. Sometimes, such trades occur at the July 31 non-waiver deadline as teams can work through June and July to establish the parameters of possible deals and work from there. 

But this sort of trade, with the number of players involved and the amount of money being moved, never occurs before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline. There are too many obstacles to contend with. Players have to clear waivers, with 29 teams deciding not to claim them. A team wanting to make a claim has to hope competitors with lesser records pass on the same opportunity first. 

Once a player is claimed, the two sides have three options to work with. A trade can be arranged between the two teams within 48 hours. The player can be handed over, with the claiming team taking on the full value of his contract. Or the original team can decide to keep the player on its roster. 

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington navigated many obstacles to complete a deal with the Dodgers.

Those are many considerations to deal with besides the various machinations involved with working out actual trades. Such rules and qualifiers aren't in place during the offseason or in the months leading up to July 31, when teams can make trades without so many hoops to jump through. 

Yet the Dodgers and Red Sox were able to navigate through those choppy bureaucratic waters to come to an agreement on a deal. Yes, they needed help in the form of the other 28 teams in baseball passing on the opportunity to claim Gonzalez, Beckett and Crawford on waivers. But that was a tremendous amount of red tape to successfully cut through in 24 hours.

 

Anything Is Possible

If it hasn't already been made clear, trades like this aren't supposed to happen.

Teams signing players to contracts in excess of $100 million are typically stuck with them. It's a significant financial commitment indicating the belief that the player will be a cornerstone of the franchise, the superstar who will lead—or help lead—that particular team to a championship.

Such contracts aren't agreed upon with the thought that they won't work out or that the signed players will eventually have to be traded. Why would any team take on such a risk? Why tie the fortunes of an entire franchise to one player if there isn't faith that it would be a mutually beneficial relationship?

Of course, mistakes are made. Players' talents and behaviors are misjudged. Front offices overpay, believing that money solves all the problems. Massive contracts essentially freeze payrolls, taking away the ability to add other pieces—to build teams—around star players. 

Huge contracts have been moved before. The Texas Rangers were able to trade Alex Rodriguez and the $179 million remaining on his contract to the New York Yankees. The Toronto Blue Jays shipped Vernon Wells and the $86 million left on his deal to the Los Angeles Angels

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Contracts like Adrian Gonzalez's $154 million deal are not easily moved.

But the Red Sox had not one but two $100 million contracts to shed from their payroll. They would have been fortunate to move either Gonzalez or Crawford. How many teams are going to take on that kind of money in a trade? Yet Boston not only moved both contracts, but did so in the same deal. 

Obviously, some extraordinary circumstances had to work in Boston's favor. The Red Sox needed a partner, a team with a huge budget willing to absorb hundreds of millions of dollars into its payroll with no regard for baseball's luxury tax. That $189 million luxury tax has calmed down the formerly free-spending ways of the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. Yet the Dodgers seem to consider it merely a nuisance. 

It took one team that desperately wanted to rid itself of previous mistakes and essentially start over again, along with another club that yearned to become a championship powerhouse by any financial means necessary. That's what conquered the impossible. 

 

The Story Doesn't End Here

A trade typically can't be judged until at least a few months after the fact.

Did each side get what it wanted from the deal? If the objective was to win a championship, did that team accomplish its goal? If the intention was to dump salary, what did that organization do with its newfound financial freedom? How was the rest of the league affected by the trade? 

All of those questions apply to this trade between the Dodgers and Red Sox. But the implications of this deal reach much further past this season. Each team could be dealing with the consequences stemming from this trade for years to come.

Will the Dodgers win the World Series this year? For that matter, will they even overtake the San Francisco Giants in the NL West or the Atlanta Braves or St. Louis Cardinals for a wild-card playoff spot? If they don't, have the Dodgers put themselves in position to contend for a championship during the next few seasons?

Gonzalez will certainly provide a boost to the Dodgers offense this year, but can he return to the MVP-caliber player he was with the San Diego Padres? Will he be even as good as he was in his first year with the Red Sox? How will getting away from the harsh media scrutiny of Boston and the suffocating atmosphere of the Red Sox clubhouse affect him? 

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Do Ned Colletti and Don Mattingly now have a World Series team?

Can Crawford become the five-tool threat he was before he signed with Boston and became a multimillion-dollar disappointment? Will he be the top-of-the-order threat that the Dodgers need so badly? Will the more spacious Dodger Stadium outfield allow him to utilize the defensive skills that Fenway Park hampered? 

What about Beckett? Can he regain his status as one of the top pitchers in baseball? Will he become a hungry contributor to a championship team again? Has he become too entitled and surly to be that player anymore? Might he benefit from a change of scenery more than his three teammates that came over from Boston?

On the Red Sox side, is this the beginning of a rebuilding project for a team accustomed to contending for AL East and World Series championships? Is this more of a reloading initiative in which the money previously allocated for Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett is used to fill various holes on the roster? 

Was getting rid of those three players merely the beginning of a larger overhaul? If so, who is next to go? John Lackey? Dustin Pedroia? Jacoby Ellsbury? David Ortiz? Is Valentine really the best manager for the future? How deep does the rot go in Boston, and how much more does the culture need to be changed in that clubhouse? 

Is the goal to be a playoff contender next season or are the Red Sox front office and ownership taking an opportunity to re-evaluate the way they do business and perhaps find a more sustainable model for building a championship team and achieving perennial prosperity? Could the team just decide to throw money at a different set of players, such as Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke? 

How long will it be before this blockbuster trade can truly be judged properly? When will we know which team won and which team lost? Is it possible that both the Dodgers and Red Sox can both ultimately benefit from this? 

If a good movie or book is one you want to keep coming back to, in order to appreciate its merits or find something you hadn't previously noticed, this is a trade that should give us material to appreciate for quite a while. It should still hold up for us years from now. This one won't be topped for a while—if ever.

 

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