Red Sox Mega-Trade Produces Cautious Optimism
By: Alex Reimer
This is the best day for the Red Sox organization since October 28, 2007. With one fell swoop, GM Ben Cherington shed 262.5 million dollars (roughly a small Pacific island nation’s GDP) of salary commitment in the form of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to baseball’s newest gargantuan business enterprise, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Mark Walter, Stan Kasten, and Magic Johnson purchased the Dodgers for 2 billion dollars in March of this year, and have stopped at nothing to build not just a competitive baseball team, but also more importantly, a conglomerate. With a 4 billion dollar cable television deal on the horizon, and a renewed mission to overtake the southern California entertainment landscape, the Dodgers have swallowed more bloated contracts within the past five months than the Yankees have within the past five years.
As some have aptly described it, the Dodgers are baseball’s version of TARP. They have bailed out teams from bloated, potentially toxic assets with little regard for their own financial future. The United States Treasury can keep printing money, and with this 4 billion dollar television contract, so can the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Oh, and the Red Sox netted the two top pitching prospects in the Dodgers’ system too. This is still kind of about baseball:
*But it’s more about the money, a lot more about the money. With Gonzalez, Crawford, and Beckett off the books, the Red Sox now have less than 40 million dollars committed in salary in 2013. The biggest asset an organization can have is flexibility, and the Red Sox now once again have it.
It’s not just about merely having flexibility, though. How the Red Sox use their second-birth of life will determine whether this is the trade that will embark a new winning era, or the continuation of a pattern of poor, and frankly irresponsible personnel decisions.
If the Red Sox splurge on Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton this offseason, it would be clear the organization still hasn’t learned its lesson about frivolous free agent spending in a post-steroid era, and is more concerned about saving the sellout streak than making smart long-term baseball decisions. Greinke, though he has the stuff of an ace, doesn’t have the track record or psychiatric makeup to warrant bringing to Boston on a close to nine-figure contract. Hamilton is on the wrong side of 30, is injury prone, and has all of those questions about alcoholism and drug addiction (Hamilton relapsed last offseason).
*This flexibility could instead be used towards resigning Jacoby Ellsbury after 2013, or locking up Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester once their contracts expire in a couple of years. There is now room to bring back David Ortiz as the highest paid DH in the game without worrying about where to cut corners to make room for his 15-16 million dollar salary.
As far as the prospects the Red Sox received (most notable, pitchers Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa), they have a couple of options they can pursue with them. They can either pair Webster and De La Rosa with Matt Barnes, and hope to develop the next wave of pitching prospects, or with this added organizational depth, can spin some of these pieces for this offseason’s version of Gio Gonzalez (ace-caliber pitcher in his mid-20’s traded by a rebuilding club).
*This trade serves as recognition that there is a problem with this Red Sox team, no matter what some affiliated with, or covering the team may have told you. Gonzalez, Crawford, Beckett were the nucleus of a perpetually underachieving roster. It hurts to lose Gonzalez, who remains one of the game’s best first basemen, and even in a “down season” was towards the top of the AL leader board with 86 RBI.
But in order to trade Beckett and Crawford, who clearly were not going to be a part of a championship core in Boston, the Red Sox had to include Gonzalez. Sacrifices have to sometimes be made in order to achieve greater good, and packing Gonzalez with Crawford’s remaining 106 million dollars and all of that comes with Beckett (bloated contract, ERA, and bodyweight) was the sacrifice that had to be made in this trade.
There was a reason beyond injuries and bad starting pitching why this roster had dramatically underachieved for two seasons, and was set to not make the playoffs for three seasons. There was something dysfunctional, and yes, toxic, about this core of players. The roster needed a giant enema, and this trade accomplishes that goal.
*However, this trade does not eliminate all dysfunction festering within the Red Sox organization. Firing Bobby Valentine this offseason is the next step that has to be made in order to cleanse the soul of this organization.
It is understood that Valentine was put in a nearly impossible situation to succeed this season. He didn’t get to pick his coaching staff, and didn’t get the roster he wanted out of Spring Training. The fans and media alike were giddy to jeer him, and his personality mixed with this underachieving, septic group of players created a situation where a bomb was ready to explode.
It is understood that a significant percentage of that nucleus has been traded this season (Youkilis, Beckett, Crawford, Gonzalez), an undermining malcontent back-up catcher (Kelly Shoppach) was traded too, and the pitching coach who refused to talk to Valentine (Bob McClure) was fired. The roster is going younger, and Valentine enjoys working with younger, less established players more than he does with established veterans.
It is understood that the organization has disposed itself of some of Valentine’s most vocal critics. It seems as if every move made has come with Bobby V’s recommendation. If 2013 is going to be the quintessential “bridge season,” why not let Valentine stay on with a coaching staff he likes, and a roster he enjoys working with? If 2013 is going to be a rather uneventful season on the field, at the very least Valentine’s mouth will keep the team in the news.
Oh, that’s right, Valentine can’t continue to manage the team because THE GM NEVER PICKED HIM. The Red Sox need to fix the broken lines of communication within the organization. The manager and General Manager need to work as a cohesive unit. That can only happen if Ben Cherington gets to pick his manager.
*The structure of the organization needs to be reorganized. Maybe this trade is a sign that Larry Lucchino, and the business portion of the organization are no longer meddling into the baseball operations. This trade wasn’t so much a tough baseball decision to make; it was obvious to all this team’s roster needed a massive overhaul. But from a business perspective, it’s awfully difficult, no matter how despised Beckett was in this market, to sell a retooling process. There are five weeks left in the season, and the Red Sox with this trade have told the public they’re giving up on the year.
The difficult business decision was made, though, because it was the right thing to do for the baseball team. This trade is the first sign in a full calendar year (a lot longer if one wants to go back to the John Lackey signing in 2010) that the organization is being proactive, and isn’t simply reacting to the assumed needs of the all-encompassing “Red Sox Nation” in order to preserve a fictitious sell-out streak.
But in order for this trade to be Ben Cherington’s “Nomar moment,” the team needs to follow-up. The Nomar trade produced a World Series title, and then a series of shrewd, smart baseball decisions. Pitchers in their mid-30’s all left via free agency, the farm system blossomed to one of the best in baseball, and the team won another World Series title just three short years later.
How the Red Sox follow-up on this trade is yet to be determined, but for the first time in a long time, one’s outlook on the team can be optimistic, even cautiously so.