August 27, 2012
The blockbuster 9-player trade agreed upon by the Red Sox and Dodgers indicates a change of direction for each team. The Red Sox sent 1B Adrian Gonzalez, OF Carl Crawford, P Josh Beckett, and IF Nick Punto to the Dodgers for 1B James Loney and prospects RHP Allen Webster, IF Ivan De Jesus, OF/1B Jerry Sands, and RHP Rubby De La Rosa.
The Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have been on a spending spree for the past couple of years. Not that they were completely frugal before – their opening day payroll has been over $100 million all but twice over the last 12 years. But since (and including) 2010, they have had a team payroll of $163 million or higher, topping out at over $175 million this year.
In 2010, they had 5 players making over $10 million a year. In 2011, that number jumped up to 8. That was the year the Red Sox nabbed two of the most coveted, and highest-priced, players on the offseason market – Carl Crawford (signed as a free agent) and Adrian Gonzalez (acquired in a trade from the San Diego Padres). Crawford earned over $14.8 million, while Gonzalez seemed like a bargain at $6.3 million.
But in 2012, the Red Sox re-signed Gonzalez to a 7 year, $154 million contract, making him the highest paid player on the team. He and Crawford are both making over $20 million this year.
GM Ben Cherington must have done some simple math: $175 million dollar payroll + 13.5 games out of first place + 9 games out of the wild card = time to rethink your strategy.
“We recognized that we are not who we want to be right now and it’s been a large enough sample of performance going back to last year,” Cherington said. “We felt like in order to be the team that we wanted to be on the field we needed to make more than cosmetic changes.”
The Red Sox have failed to make the playoffs in each of the last 3 seasons. Most notably, they suffered a crushing collapse at the end of the 2011, which let to rifts in the clubhouse, controversy over (of all things) the team’s penchant for consuming chicken and beer in the clubhouse, and the firing of manager Terry Francona, who led the Sox to 2 World Series championships in 4 years. GM Theo Epstein, who strayed from his “Moneyball” roots in recent years, departed for the north side of Chicago, where he’s trying to bring another long-suffering franchise their first world championship since the beginning of the 20th century.
The bad blood has spilled over into 2012, with new manager Bobby Valentine taking most of the heat. These moves appear to have given Valentine another year at the helm for Boston, however. Teams usually dump either their managers or their players, but not both. Bobby V is still in the dugout at Fenway Park.
Boston learned the futility of playing Too-Much-Moneyball. So, Cherington and the Red Sox front office have done what they should – free up millions of dollars to find players who can help them win. Specifically, the Red Sox will pay just $12 million of the over $270 million owed to the players they traded to the Dodgers.
The Los Angeles Dodgers
Contrary to the Sox, the Dodgers have had trouble making ends meet over the past couple of years, thanks to the divorce of the couple who owned them previously, Frank McCourt and his then wife, Jamie. All throughout 2011, the soap opera played out – How would the money be divided? Who would get custody of the kids? Who would get custody of the Dodgers?
Despite those distractions, the Dodgers pulled off an 86-win season, led by Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw, super slugger Matt Kemp, and savvy manager Don Mattingly.
Prior to the 2012 season, the Dodgers were bought by a group that included L.A. basketball legend Magic Johnson and baseball front-office whiz Stan Kasten. Johnson got the headlines, but Kasten may be the most underrated part of that ownership team.
Kasten was president of the Atlanta Braves from 1987 to 2003. During that span, the Braves won 14 consecutive division titles, 5 National League Championships, and 1 World Series. Kasten was team president of the Washington Nationals from 2006-2010, and now serves as team president for the Dodgers. If anyone knows about the baseball business, both on and off the field, it’s Stan Kasten.
Once again, the Dodgers are in contention this year, battling the San Francisco Giants for the NL West title. So, Kasten, GM Ned Colletti, and co-owner Johnson, have decided to go for it.
“In this position, you have to be aggressive,” Colletti said.
“We want to win now,” Johnson said. ”We understand that you have to spend money to be good in this league. We understood that before we bought the team. So we’re excited.”
And spend they did. Gonzalez, Crawford, Beckett, and Punto are making a combined $62 million this year. Gonzalez and Crawford still have 6 and 5, respectively, years left on their contracts, and Beckett still has 2 more years left.
The Dodgers went from bankruptcy in January, to acquiring $260 million dollars worth of players in August.
In doing so, they gave up Loney, who has been a disappointment at the plate for LA. However, they also gave up 4 good prospects to Boston. Not a cost in money, but a cost in future potential. This time of year, however, every contending team needs to decide to mortgage at least a little of their future to “win now.” The Dodgers have examined their situation, and they feel they have a great chance to win now.
And they do. The team they’re chasing, the Giants, are big on pitching. They have lots of pitching. Lots and lots of pitching. But their lineup is weak. Even weaker now with the 50-game suspension of the testosterone-abusing Melky Cabrera.
The Dodgers are big on pitching. They have Kershaw (12-7, 2.84 ERA), Chris Capuano (11-9, 3.37 ERA), Chad Billingsley (10-9, 3.55 ERA), and Aaron Harang (9-7, 3.65 ERA) in their starting rotation. They have Kenley Jansen (25 saves, 0.82 WHIP) in the bullpen. But now they have a fearsome lineup to go with their solid pitching staff.
Their lineup now includes Gonzalez, Punto, Hanley Ramirez (acquired before the non-waiver trade deadline from the Miami Marlins), Shane Victorino (acquired before the non-waiver trade deadline from the Philadelphia Phillies), Andre Eithier, and their MVP, Matt Kemp.
One player they will not have in their lineup for the rest of the year is Crawford, who underwent Tommy John surgery, and is now out for the season. This clearly demonstrates that the Dodgers have Crawford in their long-term plans. It also indicates that the Red Sox did not, and weren’t willing to wait for the speedy outfielder to come back from surgery.
Just another indication of the change in plans for both the Dodgers and the Red Sox. A change that, if managed properly, will be a benefit to both teams. L.A. takes the brunt of the risk – if they don’t win this year or next, they’ll be stuck with a large payroll and disappointed fan base. Boston had nothing to lose. This move gives Cherington the opportunity to rebuild the team in accordance with his vision, not that of the previous front office.