Saturday, August 25, 2012

Instant Trade Analysis: Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers get: 1B Adrian Gonzalez, SP Josh Beckett, OF Carl Crawford, IF Nick Punto

Boston Red Sox get: SP Rubby de la Rosa, OF Jerry Sands, IF Ivan de Jesus, 1B James Loney , SP Allen Webster
After the Los Angeles Dodgers were sold to a new ownership group including former Los Angeles Lakers point guard Earvin "Magic" Johnson, former Atlanta Braves President Stan Kasten and investor Mark Walter, Kasten repeated over and over that business in Chavez Ravine was going to change. For the past seven years, the team had been beset by management that didn't have the capital to back up the massive responsibility that came with running a league institution like the Dodgers. Fans became disillusioned and bitter, and after several seasons of seeing the best players being eschewed from their dreams of playing in Dodger Blue because of bigger paychecks in not just places like New York and Boston, but Detroit and Milwaukee, simply stopped showing up to the Stadium.
From day one, Kasten repeated that the Dodgers would take their rightful place on the iron throne that they molded out of the ingenuity of Branch Rickey and the sweat of Peter O'Malley. Over and over, he said that the Dodgers would no longer operate like a small-market team whilst sitting in the middle of the nation's second-biggest media market. Stan Kasten, with Magic's infectious smile beaming a little bit brighter than usual, proclaimed that the Los Angeles Dodgers would be the New York Yankees.

On Friday, August 24th, the Los Angeles Dodgers have become the New York Yankees.



Let's get this on paper, or in this case, pixels - this trade is one of the most stunning, unprecedented trades in the history of Major League Baseball. This trade is the biggest waiver-wire August trade that's ever been happened. This much money, in regards to contracts, has never been exchanged between two teams before. This type of deal, one that completely changes the futures of two franchises, has happened before, but none with as much immediate and monumental impact. This frankly, is the most shocking Dodgers trade since Mike Piazza was ushered out of town in 1997, and the biggest in Boston since Nomar was traded for a chemistry set in 2004. 

The Dodgers took on a staggering $260 million and change in this trade, which includes six more years of Gonzalez at around $130 million, five more years of Carl Crawford at $100 million and two more years of Josh Beckett at $32 million. This completes an in-season spending spree of over $300 million when combining that total of new OF Shane Victorino, SS Hanley Ramirez, RP Brandon League and SP Joe Blanton. Forget any eloquent way of writing it...that's a shitload of cash. More importantly, it's a massive commitment for three players that the Boston media have portrayed as nothing more than payroll millstones, including Crawford, who just underwent Tommy John surgery yesterday.
For the Dodgers, the incentive for this deal is clearly Adrian Gonzalez. Make no mistake, things with him aren't nearly as bad as people in Boston would have you believe (but then again, is anything as bad as Boston makes it seem?). Many have forgotten that Adrian, who's only in his second year in Eastern Mass, has surrounded two halves of mediocre baseball with two halves of MVP-caliber play. Just a year ago, he took a 1.006 OPS and 49 extra-base hits into the All-Star break. He followed that up with a still great but not MVP-caliber .893 OPS in the second half, and after doing little to stem the Red Sox titanic collapse last September, then degrading to a feeble .745 OPS until July this year. However, since then, he's lit on fire like NBA Jam; 19 extra base hits, 41 RBIs, a .971 OPS and 9 homers, giving him 15 for year. For those of you counting at home, that's 1 less than James Loney has hit in the past two seasons. This performance, as well as the one he began his tenure in Boston with, matches much more with his career numbers, which usually fill up this hit machine with doubles and around 30 homers a year.

In LA, he's a perfect fit. The Dodgers haven't had a power hitter manning first base since Eric Karros, and weren't likely to see one this solid on the free agent market any time soon. Some will point to Gonzalez's .676 OPS and .212 batting average in nearly 190 plate appearances at Dodger Stadium, but it's important to keep in mind that he struck out in 24% of his plate appearances (as opposed to 20% for his career) against a typically good to very good Dodgers pitching staff, as well as played for largely terrible lineups with the Padres. I have full faith that a player that's been one of the best players in the majors for 3/4 of the past two years will be able to replicate his world destroying ways.
The other two pieces of the deal are what make this anything less than a home run...perhaps much less. With Crawford, the Dodgers take on a player that's not just potential damaged goods, but one with a price tag that could buy several small African nations, and maybe even a large one. Even before his injury, the former Boston left fielder was a massive disappointment to the team. The speed that most of his game was predicated on had largely left Crawford, as well as his batting eye that consistently kept his .OBP above .350 and produced upwards of 180 hits a year. Perhaps he was mostly injured in his entire Red Sox stint, but even if his performance was merely an aberration, there's no doubt that it's at the very least a sign of how the now-31 year old is declining. Essentially, think of Crawford as a $100 million "posting fee" to even negotiate for Adrian. Thus, if Gonzalez fails to perform, the stink emanating from this trade could resemble a dust cloud of putridity forming the letters "Vernon Wells". It's just dead money for a player that's not worth it.

On a smaller note, this trade could preclude the Dodgers from re-signing new OF Shane Victorino, who won't have a position when Crawford comes back from injury. Not being able to bring back the able bodied Flyin' Hawaiian could be devastating for the Dodgers, seeing as their new high-priced outfielder might not be back until midway through 2013.


Josh Beckett is actually the fulcrum of this deal being successful for the Dodgers or not. Assuming that Gonzalez will be great and Crawford will not, Beckett is the swing vote here. The starter has spent the better part of the year being involved in salacious news stories involving golf courses, late scratches, fried chicken, inflammatory managerial comments and beer, rather than anything involving a positive influence on the field. Beckett is registering career-worsts in almost every category possible, which includes a 5.23 ERA and his strikeouts per nine innings dipping to 6.6 from his 8.3 career mark. However, even Josh's performance on the mound has taken a backseat to the rumors of him being one of the most divisive and negative forces tearing apart a once-harmonious Red Sox locker room. In almost every single way, Josh Beckett is doing as much damage to a team - on the field, in the locker room and on the payroll - as humanly possible.
So why would the Dodgers want this guy? Well, because when he's not being a complete asshole, he's one of the best pitchers in the league. Beckett is just ten months removed from a 200 inning, 175 strikeout, 2.89 ERA campaign in which he took Boston to the brink of the playoffs. He has been, at times, the definition of a big game hurler, putting up a 3.07 ERA, 99 strikeouts in 93 innings. In fact, he has a 1.16 ERA in three World Series starts. Statistically, Beckett was a better pitcher in the National League with the Marlins than he's been in the AL with Boston, but seeing as he hasn't been on the senior circuit for over seven years, it's fair to believe that he'll benefit from transitioning from the gauntlet that is the AL East to the NL West.

When healthy and properly motivated, there's very little Josh Beckett can't do on the mound. Hopefully for Dodgers fans, Beckett's presence in this deal will be reminiscent of 3B Mike Lowell's part in the deal that brought them to Boston in the first place. At the time, Lowell was merely an overpaid player the Marlins wanted to get rid of, and taking his ornery contract was a key cog in acquiring then stud youngster Beckett. Unbeknownst to anything, the new Red Sox third baseman would be rejuvenated by the move, winning a World Series MVP trophy along the way.
Personally, I feel like Beckett will be relieved to be out of the pressure cooker that is Yawkey Way and happy to be in a market where the Dodgers are, at times, the third or fourth most important team in the city. Without the massive weight of expectations on his shoulders, as well as an accompanying chip taking it's place, Beckett could be primed for a locked-in, "shove-it-in-their-faces" change of scenery trade. This has all the makings of a tremendously talented player just needing for someone to say "we don't want you." For further reference, see Ramirez, Hanley and Manny.

Oddly enough, the Dodgers have a need for the slick-fielding Nick Punto, seeing as Dodgers utility man Jerry Hairston just underwent season-ending hip surgery. And that's all I got to say about that.

For the Red Sox, the motivation behind this deal is two-fold. First and foremost, GM Ben Cherington and staff just hit the big, fat reset button, and hit it hard. Out of all the money Boston shed in this deal, there could be $140 million that is simply dead weight. Obviously the front office felt like Crawford would never be able to meaningfully contribute on the field, whether that was because of health reasons or that the climate would be so hostile success wasn't an option. Beckett, dominant at times, was having a down year and at age 32, and could be quickly regressing. Losing Gonzalez has to be the toughest decision for Boston here, but perhaps they're under the impression that Adrian isn't fully equipped to deal with the pressures of the marketplace, for whatever reason it is. I can't say for sure, but obviously the scenario of dropping what the Red Sox felt was a incredible waste of money was too tantalizing for them to pass up, even if the price was one of the best first basemen in the game.
Also, from the mouth of our Red Sox fanboy Mr. Marquez, the team is striving to free up that salary. Think back; who was the last great free agent signing? Thinking hard? Well, the point is made right there. Baseball is not won or lost anymore by free agent acquisitions. The key to winning is drafting young players, and either allowing those players to develop into cheap major leaguers, or trading them for stars in their prime. Look at the Sox in 2004 and 2007; how did they win? Sure, Manny Ramirez, Daisuke Mastuzaka and Keith Foulke were high-priced free agents, but the other parts of the team? Entirely made of guys Boston drafted, or traded prospects to get. The model is sound, and the Red Sox knew that they had to get back to growing their talent and building their team throught he draft. Thus, money better spent on youngsters, rather than 30 year olds that weren't helping the team win.
The second is chemistry, pure and simple. As our main man Mr. Marquez wrote a couple weeks ago, the biggest mistake was letting players dictate too much the course of the team. He meant that in several ways: the roster was having too much say, directly or indirectly, in the direction that management took in terms of discipline, personnel decisions and coaching. The inmates were running the asylum, and the messaging was that this was...okay? The Red Sox needed to purge the team of whatever lingering negativity was caused by the September collapse and a locker room that bred a lack of intensity or passion. Again, I can't say for sure, but some of these three players were either directly responsible for it, or this was a telegraph to those that were. Boston tried penicillin and advil; that didn't work. This was a hard and fast amputation, and one that needed to happen.

The third, and probably least motivating factor, was the prospects that the Dodgers are shipping over. The two prizes here are the starters, Allen Webster and Rubby de la Rosa. We've already seen flashes of dominance from the latter in his short time in the rotation last year. With a deadly cutter and upper 90s heat, de la Rosa could have the ceiling as a number two starter. However, he's fresh off of Tommy John surgery, so it's not like he doesn't come with any disclaimers. Webster is less Major League-ready, but talented nevertheless. He's been ranked as the number two prospect in the system this year, and was good enough that Dodgers GM Ned Colletti refused to enter him into any conversations at the trade deadline. Sands and de Jesus are both older prospects that haven't been able to hit it in the Majors despite multiple chances, though de Jesus has been saddled largely with freak injuries. However, they're both far beyond prime farm hand territory, so the Red Sox are basically taking flyers on both.
And then there's James. I'll always remember the grand slam that effectively crushed the entire North Side of Chicago in 2008. Other than that. I'll always keep in mind those glorious singles from a hitter who's body-type and stroke should have resulted in 25 home run seasons. Alas, the second coming of Mark Grace ended up being the second coming of Casey Kotchman. Dealing him is addition by subtraction, and only makes the Gonzalez acquisition all that much more important.

All in all, this trade is a gigantic gamble for the Dodgers. Losing de la Rosa and Webster hurts, but nothing comes even close to the potentially disastrous situation that could await the Dodgers regarding Crawford's contract. For a portrait of how that could turn out, the team has no further to look than down the 5 freeway, where Vernon Wells is fouling up the Angels outfield situation. However, with the Dodgers, there's no Mike Trout to make everything okay.
Let me reiterate, this is a high risk, high reward for the Dodgers. Worst case scenario, Gonzalez can't hit in Dodger Stadium, Carl Crawford isn't even a replacement-level player anymore and Josh Beckett continues his descent into irrelevance. Thus, the Dodgers traded two premium prospects for taking on $250 million dollars. That would be absolutely catastrophic for the Dodgers, even with their newfound deep pockets. The best case scenario? The Dodgers are equipped to win the World Series in two months. The lineup has been transformed from paper tiger with no protection for Kemp and Ethier, to a masher's row that has Andre batting sixth. Manager Don Mattingly will run out Victorino, Mark Ellis, Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier as the top of his order. He'll have Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang sitting as one of the best starting rotations in the league. Half the team will be high-priced discarded players who not only have the hunger to win, but to prove all the naysayers wrong. If the Dodgers make the playoffs, who's better than them in the National League? No one. The reward here is winning, not just now, but for years to come.
For the Sox, despite the outflow of talent, this is trade is a good thing. They have a three-year record of showing that this team simply wasn't going to get it done. Crawford could experience a career renaissance, but it's unlikely at age 31 that he'll ever be worth the money owed to him. Similarly, Beckett was never going to play at an elite leve again in Boston. Too much bad history, too many awful incidents and too much criticism. Gonzalez could be the only part of the equation that could hurt Boston if he regains his MVP form, but even still, giving up an elite player is worth shedding $130 million dollars of awful contracts. They got two premium prospects in the deal, shook up a locker room that couldn't get September out of their heads and opened up salary for a new crop of players that won't have the stink of losing on them. This team wasn't winning this year, the next or the next. They simply had to make this trade.
Today, the Dodgers pulled off a Yankees-like deal, in that they had little regard for bad contracts and being saddled with high salaries. Management and ownership have sent a gigantic message as to how they will operate from now on, if it wasn't clear with the acquisition of Hanley Ramirez and Victorino. Like in New York, Dodgers fans every genuinely proclaimed tonight "it's only money". As flippant as this mindset is, it's the type of disarming disregard that fans have yearned to have for years and years. Whether or not this trade is successful for Los Angeles, this is a franchise-changing move.

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