LA Goes All-In; Boston Blows It Up

The Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers are on the verge of completing one of the biggest blockbuster trades in baseball history, one which will alter the balance of baseball on each coastline. Boston appears to be shipping it’s three highest paid players, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford plus Nick Punto in exchange for one player currently on the Dodgers roster (James Loney) and a package of prospects. Let’s take a look at the motives and the haul of players that both teams will be receiving.

Los Angeles Dodgers

In terms of salary, this will be the most expensive trade ever and it appears to be the latest in a series of bold moves by the Dodgers’ new ownership group. The Guggenheim Partners, which include Magic Johnson, purchased the LA sports franchise back in March for just over $2 billion, and they are expected to sign a landmark new television deal that could be worth upwards of $4 billion. With revenue streams of that size, the once-prudent Dodgers under Frank McCourt are now opening their pocket books, making a serious of bold, payroll-spiking trades this season. Los Angeles has already nabbed Shane Victorino from the Phillies and Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins, making over their roster in extreme fashion.

Los Angeles has now agreed to take on somewhere around $150-160 million dollars in future salary owed to Beckett, Gonzalez, and Crawford. Obviously with that kind of economic investment this is a massive win now move, which has to be a welcome sign to Dodger fans. The Dodger front office has been able to massively overhaul the team’s roster throughout the course of the season, turning a mediocre-at-best offense into a potentially high-scoring juggernaut and a National League favorite to make the World Series.

The list of players the Dodgers have added to this team mid-season is mind-boggling. The front office thus far has picked up: Bobby Abreu (since released), Yasiel Puig (signed a 7-year deal and is currently in the minors), Shane Victorino, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Joe Blanton, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford (out for the rest of the year after having Tommy John surgery). Plenty of these players have come with risk, having been largely overpaid and unproductive in their old environments, but the Guggenheim partnership doesn’t seem to mind.

They talked a big game when they took over, wanting to win World Series (plural) immediately while turning the Dodgers into a perennial powerhouse, and in just 5 months on the job they have already turned the team into one of the highest-spending, talented outfits in baseball. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if the Dodgers quickly become the highest-spending franchise in baseball within a few seasons, posting payrolls larger than those put up by the Yankees. All that money could bring some serious success for the Dodgers, especially because some of these risky players are extremely talented and could easily turn it around.

In terms of on the field production, this is a massive upgrade for the Dodgers, even with the massive overpay to Carl Crawford. Adrian Gonzalez gives the franchise a good-hitting 1st baseman for the first time since 2007. Gonzalez is a massive, massive upgrade over Loney, the Dodgers’ .254/.302/.344 hitting 1st basemen with just 4 homers and 33 RBI. Gonzalez has struggled a bit this season compared to his normal level of play, but even then he’s still hitting .300/.343/.469 while driving in 86 runs. He’s a huge upgrade at 1st base and I expect him to continue his great play in the 2nd half, where he’s hitting .338/.378/.593 with 19 extra-base hits in just 37 games. Gonzalez gives the Los Angeles’ middle-of-the-order some serious teeth, and he should combine nicely with Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, and Andre Ethier down the stretch run of 2012 and for the next couple of seasons.

As far as Josh Beckett goes, he should enjoy more success going from the high-powered AL East to the pedestrian on offense NL West, but how much is yet to be seen. He’s mired in the worst season of his career this year, posting a 5-11 record with a 5.23 ERA while averaging a career-low 6.2 strikeouts per 9 innings. Los Angeles is now on the hook for 2 more years at $15.75 million a year, so they will need Beckett to turn his play to avoid becoming an unsightly albatross on the books. He appeared fairly miserable pitching in Boston this season, so a change of scenery could be just what he needs to bounce back, but I wouldn’t personally bet on it.

Boston Red Sox

From Boston’s perspective the idea behind the trade is obvious. Get rid of some unproductive, unhappy, highly paid players (Crawford and Beckett), but that comes with a price, in the form of Adrian Gonzalez. Boston GM Ben Cherington has decided to immediately hit the reset button on a franchise that as recently as 2011 was considered one of the heavy favorites to win 100 games and a World Series. It’s shocking how quickly the new Boston GM has been able to undo the final, expensive offseason of Theo Epstein’s reign. James Loney is a placeholder for the 2012 season and probably won’t do too much, but if the prospects the Red Sox are receiving pan out has also provided Boston with a few potential rotation pieces, a major need for a team that ranks 26th in baseball in starter’s ERA. It’s a risky trade from Boston’s perspective because Gonzalez is an established star, but the potential to clear out payroll and start from scratch was too tantalizing for Cherington to pass up.

The two biggest prizes Boston is receiving in terms of minor leaguers, are Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, both of whom were considered top-5 prospects in the Dodger system. De La Rosa has made one appearance in the top 100 for Baseball America (2011 he was ranked 90th) and possesses a 95-97 mph fastball to go with a solid change-up. He’s still working on developing a slider, but most scouts consider his fastball to be elite. He received 10 starts and 3 appearances out of the bullpen for the Dodgers in 2011, posting a 4-5 record with a 3.71 ERA and an 8.9 K/9 rate, which is very good for a young pitcher. The AL East can be tough on young pitching, but with a fastball that can occasionally hit 100 mph, De La Rosa should be fine.

Allen Webster is actually considered the better of the two prospects, and at age-22 his repertoire includes a good sinking fastball that tops out around 94-95 mph and an above average change-up. He’s also working on a curveball and a slider as well. Webster was ranked as the 95th best prospect by Baseball America before the 2012 season started, and this year he is 6-8 with a 3.55 ERA at Double-A Chattanooga. He’s had some control issues in the minor leagues, exhibiting a high walk rate over 5.0 at times, but pitchers typically gain more control as they age. Jerry Sands is also included in the trade, but he’s struggled to stick in the majors, hitting just .244/.325/.376 in 70 games.

Boston also has the payroll flexibility to make a splash in the off-season if they choose to do so. Josh Hamilton will be the most talented player on the market and could be difficult to pass up if Cherington wants to make a splash in his first real go-around as the GM of the Red Sox. Last year he was hired right before free agency started and with all the salary already on the books for the Red Sox, Cherington wasn’t able to do too much. With nearly $260 million dollars cleared off the payroll over the next 6 seasons, there is plenty of flexibility for Boston to be major players this off-season.

As with any trade, it’s impossible to tell who wins until all the dust has settled. The prospects Boston picked up will probably not be able to a make a real big impact in a Major Leagues for a couple of seasons, so picking winners and losers will just have to wait. If Los Angeles can parlay this move into a run to the pennant however, it will be impossible to say the Dodgers didn’t make the right decision. With all the talent currently on hand in Los Angeles, it’s easy to imagine some October heroics in store for Hollywood. As it is right now, if Washington shuts down Stephen Strasburg for the playoffs, the Dodgers would become the favorites in the National League.

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