LOS ANGELES -- A year later, who won the trade?
Had the question been posed on the first day of summer, the Boston Red Sox would have been credited for pulling off one of the most one-sided deals in baseball history. Not only did they shed $262.5 million in one stunning afternoon, but their reconstructed team was in first place in the American League East, future rosters had been freed of burdensome salary obligations and the clubhouse had shed its reputation for being a den of malcontents.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had gambled heavily on Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett being difference-makers, had made the Aug. 25 deal hoping the Red Sox star power would carry them to a 2012 postseason berth. That hope was reinforced when Gonzalez hit a three-run homer in his first at-bat in Dodger Blu that helped Los Angeles pull to within two games of division-leading Arizona.
Less than a month later, the Dodgers were 11 games behind, having won just nine of 25 games, and missed the playoffs. Gonzalez did not hit another home run and batted just .244 with a .653 OPS in that span. Beckett won once in five starts despite pitching passably. Crawford was back home in Houston, recovering from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.
And as the Dodgers stood on the cusp of summer in 2013, it had gotten only worse. They were 30-42, in last place in the National League West and had been outscored by 51 runs. Beckett, winless in eight starts, was done for the season, ultimately undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. Crawford was on the disabled list with a strained hamstring and would be sidelined for more than a month. Gonzalez was hitting for average, but told the Los Angeles Times that his power swing, one that had allowed him to hit as many as 40 home runs in a season for the Padres, was a thing of the past.
But as the Red Sox prepare for their first visit to Chavez Ravine since 2002, the reckoning has changed drastically, with the Dodgers in the midst of one of the greatest runs ever witnessed in any sport and no signs of abating. Galvanized by the arrival of a Cuban force of nature known as Yasiel Puig and a pitching staff led by Clayton Kershaw, the team left for dead in June is a betting favorite to win the World Series, something the Dodgers last accomplished in 1988.
After shutting out the Marlins 6-0 Thursday afternoon in Miami, the Dodgers are 45-10 since June 22 and have outscored opponents by 110 runs (264 to 154). They are a season-high 23 games above .500, lead Arizona in the NL West by a season-high 9½ games and had broadcaster Charley Steiner trumpeting Thursday that the team's magic number to win the division was 27. They lead the majors in batting average since June 21, and their starting pitchers have a collective ERA of 2.52, with Kershaw throwing eight more scoreless innings Thursday.
The Dodgers, their sterling reputation as one of sports' great franchises in tatters after Frank McCourt put them in bankruptcy, are back to leading the majors in attendance, averaging more than 45,000 fans a game, and have drawn 50,000 or more 22 times. Magic Johnson is the crowd-pleasing new face of the franchise, owner Mark Walter is the spare-no-expense deep pockets, CEO Stan Kasten the savvy hand on the franchise rudder and general manager Ned Colletti -- freed from the constraints of laboring under McCourt -- the architect of a powerhouse.
So, a year later, who won the trade?
The Red Sox reboot has produced greater results more quickly than anyone outside of Yawkey Way anticipated last winter, with the money saved spent liberally on the likes of Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew and Mike Napoli, but all of it covering a limited period of time. Going forward, GM Ben Cherington is looking at books that have $105 million in contract obligations next season, only $41.875 million in guaranteed obligations in 2015 and after that, only Dustin Pedroia's contract extension, which was available after wiping out the $40 million-plus that would have been owed Gonzalez and Crawford, who are already on the back nine of their careers.
That allows him exceptional latitude in roster construction -- allowing, for example, the possibility of re-signing Jacoby Ellsbury.
Cherington also retains the possibility that the two pitching prospects the Sox received from the Dodgers, Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, will be impact players in the future, having both spent time in the majors already this season with Boston. The results have been uneven, but the potential remains real.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, have shown no inclination to spare costs since Walter laid out $2 billion to buy the franchise. Gonzalez, though his OPS is .800, its lowest since his first full season in the big leagues, leads the Dodgers in hits, home runs and RBIs. His 3.2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) ranks third among Dodgers position players, behind Hanley Ramirez (3.9) and Puig (3.7), and he's batting a hefty .432 (19 for 44) with runners in scoring position and two out.
Crawford's WAR is just 1.2, the lowest of his career and a fraction of the 6.9 he had in 2011, his last season with the Rays, but he's batting .329 (24 for 73) in his past 18 games, picking up the pace just as Puig (eight for 45, .178) encountered the first bump of his big league career. Nick Punto, the fourth player acquired by the Dodgers in the deal, has been a useful and popular bench player, batting .375 (12 for 32) in August. After a recent home run, he got a high-five from actor Danny DeVito, who was wearing a Punto jersey.
And for all of the talk about the greatly improved character in the Red Sox clubhouse, the former Sox players occupying places in L.A. obviously haven't sabotaged winning there. Still, the Dodgers will be on the hook for $106 million to Gonzalez through 2018 and $82.5 million to Crawford through 2017, by which time the results almost certainly won't warrant them being paid like elite players.
But for a team that hasn't owned the town since Kirk Gibson fist-pumped his way around the bases in 1988, every penny will be worth it if it returns to the World Series. Especially when it doesn't have to count pennies the same way as everyone else.