BOSTON -- When Haywood Sullivan became Boston Red Sox owner in 1977, he was asked about the wisdom of trading star players.
"I don't think you can trade a [Carlton] Fisk, a Jimmy Rice, a Fred Lynn, a Carl Yastrzemski or a Rick Burleson," Sullivan said. "When you trade key men like that, you are just defeating your own purpose."
Three winters later Sullivan traded Lynn and Burleson, who were a year away from free agency, to the Angels in separate deals (Butch Hobson also went in the Burleson deal) and lost Fisk to free agency on a technicality, foolishly mailing his contract to be tendered two days after it was required. A team was transformed.
Red Sox fans reeled in shock. Lynn, The Natural, was five years removed from winning the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year. Fisk was the granite-hewn face of the franchise, the man who hit the most famous home run in the team's history. Burleson was a fan favorite, "the Rooster," a Dustin Pedroia type and three-time All-Star who considered it a bad day if his uniform wasn't covered with dirt.
"I still don't know what their objective is -- to win or to make money," Lynn said at the time. "I'm sure they'll make money. I don't think they can win."
The Red Sox did not win their division for the next five seasons. They finished fifth twice, sixth once.
On the 25th of August, the Red Sox completed another transformative deal, one that stands alone in baseball history by at least one important measure -- the money involved. Only one $100 million player has been traded in baseball history. That was Alex Rodriguez. On Saturday, the Red Sox packaged two -- first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and outfielder Carl Crawford, along with pitcher Josh Beckett and reserve infielder Nick Punto -- in a deal to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Together, those four players represent 11 All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves, three World Series rings, one World Series MVP, one LCS MVP and one All-Star MVP.
Collectively, they have been paid more than $200 million in their careers and are owed an additional $261 million.
This is the franchise that sold Babe Ruth and over the years has traded away Tris Speaker, the Ferrell brothers and Nomar Garciaparra, while losing Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn and Pedro Martinez to free agency. It has never made a single deal that approximates this one in any way. Like an earlier generation, Red Sox fans are reeling in shock.
This was unimaginable just 20 months ago, when first Gonzalez, then Crawford, were introduced to Boston as the building blocks of a brave new world that would ensure the team's success into perpetuity -- or at least the next seven years. Gonzalez was the slugger who would ultimately succeed David Ortiz as the team's biggest basher. Crawford was hailed as the game-changer, a combination of speed, defense and daring rarely seen on Yawkey Way.
Now, they are both becoming Magic men in L.A., a place where real money has replaced Frank McCourt's house of cards and Magic Johnson is the public face of a franchise determined to woo back Dodgers fans by spending whatever it takes to win -- and what better time than now? Gonzalez was the piece they coveted, a Southern California native and Mexican-American who will have the chance to re-enact the closest thing to Fernando-mania the club has seen since Fernando Valenzuela was the darling of Angelenos.
The Red Sox were not eager to part with Gonzalez. "I haven't been around more of a professional, good guy, terrific player as him in a long time -- if ever," manager Bobby Valentine said of Gonzalez, who denied a Yahoo! Sports report that identified him as leader of a clubhouse cabal against Valentine late last month.
On Thursday, CEO Larry Lucchino spoke in glowing terms of Gonzalez, saying he had been everything the club had hoped for, both on and off the field, especially once he started hitting home runs again after a slow start this season. "We loved Adrian," another Sox source said Friday.
Yet all the while, Lucchino was going back and forth with his Dodgers counterpart, Stan Kasten, while GM Ben Cherington was working the phones with Dodgers GM Ned Colletti. The Red Sox were motivated by a recognition of the changes they needed to effect in a ballclub headed for its third straight season of missing the playoffs, and one that had alienated the affections of its fan base.
Sacrificing Gonzalez, whom they still regarded more as part of the solution than the problem, was the price they had to pay for getting out from under the $135 million or so still owed to Beckett and Crawford. It was almost inconceivable they would find a team willing to take on both salaries, especially given the injury history of both players and their subpar performances. The Dodgers were that team.
In one trade, the Red Sox eliminated nearly $60 million in guaranteed money from their 2013 payroll, a number that shrank from roughly $107 million to $47 million, according to numbers provided by Baseball Prospectus. What they do with that flexibility, of course, will ultimately determine how history will judge this deal. Rebuild? That word still does not exist in Lucchino's vocabulary. "Reset" is the operative principle here.
The focus will be on rebuilding the starting rotation, a process that commenced with the Dodgers' agreeing to part with the gifted Rubby (pronounced like Ruby) De La Rosa, a 22-year-old Dominican right-hander who just came back from Tommy John surgery and is topping out in the high 90s on the radar gun, and Allen Webster, a highly regarded sinkerballer. De la Rosa, who will be identified as a player to be named later because he did not clear waivers, can be expected to join Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront in the Sox rotation.
The free-agent pickings are slim, although a bulldog such as Jake Peavy could be available if the White Sox don't exercise his $22 million option, and Tampa Bay isn't expected to exercise James Shield's $9 million option. John Lackey (don't laugh) might offer depth, Franklin Morales will be given a shot and the Sox will be aggressive on the trade front.
They will also have the money, should they choose, to pursue Josh Hamilton or make a bid to lock up their own Jacoby Ellsbury before he becomes eligible for free agency after 2013. A big winner in this deal could be David Ortiz, who almost certainly will be brought back -- assuming his Achilles holds up.
There is a chance that Gonzalez will put up monster numbers, Beckett will pitch in his third World Series and Crawford will become the player Boston imagined in the more comfortable environs of Chavez Ravine. The Sox understand the risk they are taking. Lucchino said before the trade deadline -- when the Dodgers first approached the Sox about Gonzalez -- that Cherington was empowered to be bold.