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Monaco: Boston and L.A. shake up baseball (Aug. 27)

Mike Monaco | Monday, August 27, 2012

 

For years, the Boston Red Sox were a free-spending organization, routinely totaling the second-highest payroll in all of baseball. There were high expectations from the New England fan base to be a World Series contender year in and year out. 

Recently, the Los Angeles Dodgers were a middle-of-the-pack  team in terms of payroll, especially given the financial problems of since-deposed owner Frank McCourt. The squad was similarly mediocre, hovering around the .500 mark for much of the past six seasons.

But with this weekend’s blockbuster deal – which sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto and about $11 million to Los Angeles in exchange for James Loney and four prospects – each team is headed in a markedly different direction. In fact, the Dodgers are going about things the way the Red Sox did as recently as two off-seasons ago, when Boston eschewed the tenets of prospect development in favor of big-name trades and expensive free-agent signings. The Dodgers, led by a new ownership group with deep pockets, are willing to assume the bad contracts of former stars in the hope of making a World Series run.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox are admitting defeat; rookie general manager Ben Cherington is acknowledging the supposed dream team constructed by former GM Theo Epstein was a failure. Now, with significant dollars coming off the books, Cherington can go about building his team in a more fiscally conservative manner.

Here’s a closer look at the trade:

 

The Dodgers pay a steep price

When the new ownership group led by former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson took over the Dodgers, increased spending was expected. You don’t buy a professional sports franchise for a record $2 billion to be cheapskates. And Magic and company got started right away, making a slew of trade deadline deals for high-priced veterans including Shane Victorino, Hanley Ramirez and Joe Blanton.

At first this spending was exciting and expected. The Dodgers knew they could spend with a massive new television deal on the way. But this most recent trade begs the question of a spending limit. Do the Dodgers have one? Can they really afford to assume the $262.5 million that Gonzalez, Beckett, Crawford and Punto are owed past this season? 

Even if they can, they paid a steep price. Usually, when one team sells off an underperforming star in a salary dump, the other trading team is not expected to get a strong return of prospects. Yet the Dodgers inexplicably gave up two high-upside pitching prospects in Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, as well as three other players that are capable of contributing at the major league level, in addition to the quarter-billion dollars in payroll they’re assuming beyond this year.

 

The Red Sox clear house and the books

On the surface, giving up Gonzalez, Beckett and Crawford may seem like a lot. After all, they have made a combined 11 All-Star teams. But upon closer review, the deal seems like a huge win for the Sox. Beckett was widely viewed as a clubhouse problem in Boston, while Crawford and Gonzalez failed to live up to the massive expectations levied upon them two off-seasons ago when they signed with the Red Sox.

Boston now has greater financial flexibility, as well as two pitching prospects with high ceilings. It seems that Cherington has learned from the failed moves of Epstein, and is ready to build his team in a proper fashion.

As is the case with most trades, it will take a few years until we can truly analyze this transaction and anoint a winner and a loser. Maybe Carl Crawford finds his Tampa Bay Rays form and maybe Josh Beckett pitches like he is in the 2003 World Series again. Then again, maybe at ages 31 and 32, respectively, they are what they are: overpriced veterans.

The truth is, we don’t know. For now, the Dodgers will try to make a World Series run with Boston’s mistakes, and the Red Sox will happily oblige.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu
The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.