How Red Sox's and Dodgers' Futures Were Changed by Blockbuster 2012 Trade
Safe to say, it will never happen again.
In August of 2012, when the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers pulled off The Trade, which involved big-name, big-money players Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, high-end prospects like Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa and, oh, about $260 million in contractual obligations—it shocked just about everyone in and around Major League Baseball. Outside of Boston and L.A., of course.
Just as much of a shock? The blockbuster actually worked out—for both sides.
It's not often that any trade breaks in favor of each team involved. It's even less often that a trade's impact on either club pays off as immediately as this one did for the Red Sox and Dodgers, who won their respective divisions this season and made successful postseason runs. (While L.A.'s October ended in the NLCS, Boston's, obviously, isn't over yet.)
One trade involving so many players, so much talent and so much money leading to so much initial success for two teams will never happen again. But just because such a swap is unlikely to be repeated in the future doesn't mean we can't examine what The Trade means for both franchises going forward in the coming seasons.
The Red Sox's Future
While this blockbuster sent star-caliber players at superstar costs to get the Dodgers started on their 2013 turnaround, it brought Boston something else entirely on its way from last place in the AL East in 2012 to AL champs this year. That would be freedom in both a financial and roster construction sense.
Last season couldn't have gone any worse for the Red Sox, who finished 69-93—their worst record since 1965—in the first year under a new regime, with general manager Ben Cherington having taken over from Theo Epstein at the end of 2011.
During the course of 2012, Cherington essentially decided that the roster he'd inherited wasn't going to work and extreme measures needed to be taken to fix everything. Hence, he decided to unload the $250 million-plus in salary commitments that was still owed to the players traded to L.A.
While it left the franchise in flux headed into the winter between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, that decision ultimately allowed Cherington and the rest of the Red Sox front office to use those hundreds of millions saved however they saw fit.
Enter, as Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com pointed out, the following players:
Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew and David Ross—who signed free-agent deals worth about $100 million in total (or $25 million less than the Los Angeles Angels paid Josh Hamilton—have all contributed to varying degrees.
While secondary pieces like Gomes, Dempster, Drew and Ross all helped lead Boston to an MLB-best 97-65 record during the season, Victorino (15 HR, 21 SB, .802 OPS), Napoli (second on the team with 23 HRs and 92 RBIs) and Uehara (an incredible 1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP and 21 saves) were the new driving forces beside stalwarts David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia.
Speaking of those last two, let's not forget that Boston re-upped Ortiz—who led the club with 30 homers and 103 RBI—for two more years at only $26 million last offseason, and then locked up Pedroia—a four-time All-Star and former MVP—to an eight-year, $110 million extension during the summer. It's likely that neither of those deals happens if The Trade doesn't.
And the Red Sox, no doubt, wouldn't be where they are today—heading to the 2013 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals—without the October moments that Victorino (who hit the Game 6-winning grand slam), Napoli (whose homers helped win Games 3 and 5, both decided by a single run) and Uehara (only the ALCS MVP) have provided.
So, Boston is one of only two teams still playing, which puts the franchise in position to become the first to win three titles this millennium. Not bad for a team that went more than eight decades without one.
The other factor to remember here is that, unlike with the Dodgers (which you'll see in a moment), the Red Sox don't have a lot of money tied up in long-term commitments. That makes Boston a candidate to reel in the biggest free agents over the next winter or two as Cherington and his staff see fit.
Sure, because they don't have to pay Gonzalez and Crawford, they can afford to hand out a $100 million contract to free-agent-to-be Jacoby Ellsbury, who had a big 2013 and has been a key catalyst this postseason. But the club could just as easily let the center fielder walk rather than go down a Crawford-like path all over again.
Which brings us to the other thing that The Trade brought to Boston: The confidence and the smarts to know that rebuilding can be done in even one of the toughest sports markets around—and in less than a year, to boot.
The Dodgers' Future
The primary pieces the Dodgers added were Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett. While Beckett missed most of 2013 with nerve problem that caused numbness in his right (throwing) arm and hand, the other two paid off in 2013.
Gonzalez remained healthy all year long, which helped him lead the team in at-bats (583), hits (171), home runs (22), RBI (100) and runs (69). Crawford, meanwhile, battled some nicks and strains here and there but still hit .283 with 62 runs scored, 30 doubles and a team-high 15 stolen bases in 116 games.
Both players were also very strong in the Dodgers' postseason run, hitting over .300 each and combining for seven homers and 13 RBI in L.A.'s 10 playoff contests.
Going forward, Gonzalez is owed $106.5 million through 2018, while Crawford has $82.5 million coming to him through 2017. As consistent as Gonzalez was and as productive as Crawford was this year, that's a lot of money tied up in two players who are 31 and 32 years old, respectively.
(Beckett, whose contract runs through 2014 at $15.75 million, is expected to be ready to go by next spring, according to reports, which could help the back end of L.A.'s rotation next year.)
The Dodgers, though, appear more than able to afford that kind of payout thanks to an extremely lucrative television deal that is worth billions.
As much as The Trade helped, the fact that the spending over the past year-and-a-half was both non-stop and all-out was the bigger key for L.A.'s success in 2013. That allowed for the signings of former Cy Young winner and right-handed starter Zack Greinke ($147 million over six years), as well as NL Rookie of the Year candidate Yasiel Puig (a cool $42 million for seven years) and Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu (another $36 million over six years, plus $25.7 million for the posting fee).
But it's still worth wondering just how much more the new ownership can spend, not only to acquire new talent, but also to keep their current stars around.
To that second point, there have been reports of a $300 million contract offer being extended to NL Cy Young favorite Clayton Kershaw, per ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney. While nothing has been worked out yet, it seems like the Dodgers could soon have another player earning well above $20 million a year on the roster.
At some point, the flowing financial faucet will have to be shut off, or at least turned down a bit. But the other issues the Dodgers will be facing in the future are related to this spending spree.
First, this team is going to be carrying a bunch of virtually immovable contracts for the next several seasons, and while it doesn't seem like a huge problem right now, think what that will mean once these star-caliber players are no longer stars in their mid- to late-30s. Chances are good that more than a few will become immovable albatrosses.
The other issue? All of the Dodgers' money can't buy extra roster spots. There are, by rule, 25 players per team, and there already have been some indications of how L.A. could be putting itself in a tough situation.
|Matt Kemp||$128 million||2019|
|Zack Greinke||$118 million||2018|
|Adrian Gonzalez||$106 million||2018|
|Carl Crawford||$82.5 million||2017|
|Andre Ethier||$70 million||2017|
Consider, for example, the outfield. The starters this season were expected to be Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Amazingly, Kemp practically has become a forgotten man, but he's due $128 million through 2019 and hasn't been healthy for most of the past two years. Ethier, meanwhile, struggled for much of 2012 and 2013 and is owed $70 million through 2017.
All three, however, endured injuries for stretches of this season, which is why the club turned to Puig sooner than expected. Well, that worked out because Puig was a revelation, but now, it leaves four outfielders for three spots heading into 2015. In some ways, it's one of those "good" problems to have, but it's easy to see how that could wind up causing bad problems, too.
It also means the Dodgers will have to make some tough decisions as far as potentially trading, say, Ethier by eating a large portion of his remaining salary.
Beyond that, there's also the question of what the front office plans to do with Hanley Ramirez, who was the most productive offensive player when healthy—he hit .345/.402/.638 with 20 homers in only 86 games due to various injuries—but he remains under contract for only one more season.
Who won the Red Sox-Dodgers blockbuster?
In short, the Dodgers seem to have the money to make all these massive contracts plausible—but only for them, and maybe only for now. At some point, general manager Ned Colletti will have to make some hard choices with players currently on the 25-man roster while also aiming to build up a weak farm system.
This isn't meant to paint a doom-and-gloom picture for the Dodgers going forward, as their immediate future remains bright coming off their most successful campaign since 2009. But eventually, all of the money that is tied up in the team's core players—which more or less started with the acquisitions of Gonzalez and Crawford in The Trade—is likely to become a severe challenge inside of two or three years.
The Dodgers' window to win it all will remain open as long as they can keep it propped up with stacks of cash, but given how the decision-makers appear to be mortgaging the future for the present, the team's best shot to bring a World Series to Los Angeles is sooner rather than later.
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