On Sunday, the Red Sox and Dodgers completed an earth-shattering, blockbuster trade, and the biggest post deadline deal in history. Over $270 million in contracts and nine players changed hands, including three All-Stars. Sitting at 62-67 and thirteen games out of first place in the AL East, the Red Sox made a fire sale move. They sent brand-name players Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to Los Angeles, along with $11 million and veteran utility infielder Nick Punto.
The players the Sox sent-packing have eleven All-Star selections, five Gold Gloves and two postseason MVP awards between them. The players they got in return– James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Jerry Sands, Ivan DeJesus and Allen Webster– don’t have decorated trophy cases and aren’t household names by any stretch. In fact, of the five players, only Loney has accumulated more than one year of MLB service time. But, there’s no doubt about it. The Red Sox were on the winning ends of this deal.
This deal was so heavily lop-sided in Boston’s favor, it’s criminal. The Dodgers lose big here. But, their madness is half-way understandable. Fighting for a playoff spot, the Dodgers needed some insurance for their stretch run. They’re two games out of first place in their division and just a half-game ahead of the Pirates in the Wild Card race. Fighting for the postseason is important for any team, but it’s particularly important for this Dodgers club. Putting together an impressive season after two years of sub-par play, the franchise’s new ownership was clearly in a vulnerable spot. Los Angeles’ other team, the Angels, are doing their best to attract more fans from the Dodgers’ base in to their own, spending big on free agents in the offseason, making blockbuster deadline trades and stealing headlines. Of course, with the second largest market in baseball, there’s plenty of support to go around, but Dodgertown needed to prove their commitment to their fans nonetheless.
In the past few years, Dodgers’ ownership has soured much of their support, exercising poor spending practices and continually attracting negative media attention. Though he managed to sell the team for $2 billion last fall, Frank McCourt’s tenure was a an awful chapter in the club’s history. McCourt drove the team in to bankruptcy and used revenue streams to fuel his extravagant life-style and pay-off an expensive divorce. The new regime obviously wants to change that trend, and capitalize on the franchise’s potential. Sitting in such a large market and with the team suddenly playing more competitively, Magic Johnson and the club’s new owners wanted to win over a fan base that had been dwindling with disgust over the franchise’s image and annual acceptance of mediocrity. The only NL team without a World Series appearance in the last twenty-five years, the Dodgers could stand to gain big if they can make it to the Fall classic.
So, the Dodgers did something unbelievably stupid. They had great intentions, and on the surface, the trade looks beneficial for both sides. But the fact is, this deal doesn’t help enough in the short-term to make up for crippling long-term consequences. They accepted $260 million in bad contracts and a package of bad make-up veterans. $260 million. But they didn’t stop there. Claiming the contracts of this injury-riddled, insubordinate group, who were seemingly the cause of the Red Sox’ disappointing and horrible performance would’ve been reckless and short-sighted enough. The Dodgers dug themselves in to an even deeper hole, and dealt a large chunk of their future. Bright young talents Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Jerry Sands, Ivan DeJesus are all blessed with All-Star tools and they’re cheap and under team control.
Okay, the Dodgers did have good intentions here. At least they’re trying to commit their budget toward some wins. That’s much better than their plan under previous owner Frank McCourt, who used the team’s revenue on himself rather than on the field, and appeared to be intent on driving the club’s image in to the ground. And yes, this trade provides the firepower Los Angeles needs to secure a playoff spot this season. But the club has sacrificed almost all of it’s payroll room, and they’ve agreed to take-on the players who are widely considered responsible for dragging a bright, talent-filled club into the basement of the American League.
Despite their success this year, the Dodgers’ needed some outside help. They’re in a competitive division, chasing a streaking Giants team and they’re clinging on to a thing half-game lead over the Pirates for the second Wild Card spot. Their lineup is the fifth-weakest in all of baseball this year, and Los Angeles put together a so-so .500 record against winning teams. The players they acquired are among the most athletically gifted in the game and each has a tremendous resume. The prize of the trade, Adrian Gonzalez, has put together 20 wins above replacement since the beginning of the ’09 season, and he’s hitting .305/.391/.523 in that span. Not only does he give the Los Angeles more meat at middle of the order, supplementing Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier, but he’s a hefty upgrade where the team could use it most. Gonzalez will replace James Loney at first base, one of the players he was traded for. Loney was hitting just .254/.300/.342 and he’s 1.7 wins below average in his six-plus season big league career.
Beckett is a decent pick-up, solidifying a rotation that had suddenly thinned with injuries. Los Angeles’ pitching staff is holding opposing teams to just 3.7 runs per game, the second-best mark in the NL, but injuries to Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly has left some holes in their rotation. Despite leading Boston to a World Series and putting together a nice 89-58 record and a 4.17 ERA throughout his Red Sox career, Beckett had worn out his welcome in Boston. He was 5-11 with a 5.23 ERA for the Sox this season, and reports about his clubhouse poisoning spoiled his accomplishments in the eyes of many Boston sports fans. However, he’s still a very good veteran pitcher with a vicious curveball and polished command over a big league repertoire.
Beckett has the tools to put together a very nice tenure in Dodgertown. This season, he’s been performing better than his ERA and record suggest. Fenway Park is one of the hardest on right-handed power-pitchers like Josh. The park’s short right field porch boosts left-handed hitter’s power numbers, while the leftfield green monster turns lazy fly-balls in to doubles. A big-game pitcher that feeds off adrenaline, he’s been able to overcome the park’s dimensions in past years by feeding off the roaring fan support. But now that times have changed and he’s no longer a fan-favorite, he’s getting hit-hard in front of the Fenway faithful. Facing him in Boston, batter’s have their OPS boosted by 73 points and slugging percentage by over fifty this year. Dodger stadium on the other hand, is much more pitcher-friendly, and has ranked in the bottom third in homerun factor during the past two seasons. A move from the heavy-hitting AL East in to the National League should also help Josh’s performance. So, controlling for Beckett’s 1.1 homerun rate, a number that can largely be blamed on his home park, he’s a solid pitcher, with a 4.39 xFIP. Though his ERA has yo-yo’d, Beckett is actually fairly consistent, with a sub-four FIP in four of the past six seasons.
But here’s where the Dodgers loose big time. Carl Crawford. It’s sad to say, but the former All-Star and Gold Glover is one of the least valuable players in baseball. He completely exhausts the Dodgers remaining payroll flexibility, with a ball-and-chain contract that stretches through 2017. He’s owed over $120 million in that span, and there’s almost no chance that he’ll come even close to living up to his salary.
Since signing the contract in the 2010-2011 offseason, Crawford has hit a lifeless .260/.292/.419 despite playing in a left-hander friendly homepark and batting at the top of a protection-filled batting order. He’s already sat-out a season’s worth of games and after opting to have Tommy John surgery last week, will surely miss every game remaining in the 2012 season and possibly some of 2013. He just celebrated his thirty-first birthday earlier this month, and won’t be on the field again until he’s more than half-way to thirty-two. That’s not that old for a big league player, with most outfielders just exiting their prime-years at that point, but for the type of player that Crawford is, that’s ancient.
With a weak arm and pedestrian power, Crawford’s value rests primarily on his speed and hitting skills. These happen to be the first two tools to deteriorate with age, with speed generally disappearing after a player’s early thirties. At the plate, Crawford’s bat has already deteriorated significantly. Between his first full-season with the Rays in 2003 and his last in 2010, Crawford averaged a .299 batting average, a .340 on-base percentage, a 109 OPS+ and fifty-one extra-base hits. He signed with the Red Sox when he was just exiting his twenties, and he’s been a well-below average hitting since, with an ugly .292 on-base percentage and an 87 OPS+.
Crawford’s trademark running speed is already quickly disappearing, and it should be little more than a memory mid-way through his Dodgers tenure. He was averaging fifty stolen bases and twelve triples a season with the Rays, but has swiped just twenty-six bags and collected nine triples through 161 games since leaving Tampa. A speedy lead-off prototype, Crawford’s wheels are also important for legging-out hits and tracking down fly balls in the outfield. Defensively, his surgically repaired elbow and disappearing wheels aren’t going to do him any favors in a big Dodgers outfield. In the batter’s box, the forecast isn’t too promising either. His near .300 career batting average as the Rays’ lead-off man was partially a product of his on his ability to beat-out infield singles and bunts, and his .328 batting average on balls in play. So, now that Crawford’s speed is reduced, his average will likely drop even further.
In short, the Dodgers are paying $120 million for a a below-average player. Crawford’s best years are behind him. All of the good the team gets with Adrian Gonzalez, and maybe Beckett, is essentially wiped-away by the Crawford addition. Let’s face it, when Crawford finally steps on to the diamond in a Dodgers’ uniform, he’s going to be an expensive, thirty-something-year-old leftfielder with a weak, surgically repaired arm, a lifeless bat, a sub-par on-base percentage and not enough speed to push his production much higher than replacement level.
Crawford isn’t the only thing that makes this deal terrible for the Dodgers. True Gonzalez is a nice acquisition, and Beckett is a decent pitcher in the short-term, but for $260 million and four cheap, young players? That’s absolutely ludicrous. Not to mention the fact that Gonzalez, Beckett and Crawford come with a ton of off the field baggage. The Dodgers need Beckett and Gonzalez to help lead their team to the playoffs, yet both players are ill-equipped to fill many of the job’s demand. Gonzalez led a mutiny against his former manager, Bobby Valentine, and was labeled a bad clubhouse guy by the media. Beckett’s off-field behavior and insubordination helped get Terry Francona fired and is considered to be a major reason for the team’s extraordinarily disappointing play. These are the guys the Dodgers want in their clubhouse home playoff time? The veterans they to set an example for the guys that haven’t been to the postseason?
The Dodgers, supposedly a “rebuilding team” entering this season, have all but ruined their future. The massive amount of salary this trade adds absolutely strangles the team’s budget room. They didn’t lose enough in the past two seasons to earn any high draft picks, and the outside of paying for Zach Lee, they haven’t accumulated much talent via the amateur draft. They’ve fallen short on the international market. They failed to sign star-level talents Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler, but decided to spend $42 million on Yasel Puig, a player that might not be half as good as the other two. And now, they’ve drastically reduced their buying power in the next few offseasons.
The wave of trades the Dodgers have made since the beginning of July has gutted their farm system of their most polished prospects. The big league ready talents they parted with, Nate Eovaldi, Josh Lindblom, Rubby De La Rosa, Jerry Sands and Ivan DeJesus, all have less than a year of service time to their names and each will be commanding slave-labor salaries for the next few seasons. These are the type of low-price, blue-chip talented players that would’ve brightened LA’s future. Sands has 30 homerun power, Eovaldi and De La Rosa have 100 MPH heat and have already shown they can dominate big leaguers, while Lindblom and DeJesus are solid bets for unspectacular but long MLB careers.
This latest trade has continued to shift the franchise’s plan from the long-term to the short-term. The goal should be to compete annually, not to go all-in and gamble on this season. Beyond the MLB-ready players they sent packing, they also gave up a Allen Webster, a tremendously gifted young pitching prospect. Webster is blessed with great command and three above-average pitches. He keeps the ball on the ground, and has a future at the top of a MLB rotation. Losing him hurt more now that the front office has dealt so much other talent. Even the less-recognizable names they’ve traded away recently have the potential to come back to bite them. Scott McGough, one of the players they sent to Miami for Hanley, has an electric arm and could develop in to a closer. Leon Landry, the young centerfielder they traded to the Mariners for Brandon League, is hitting .344/.374/.589 this season and .400/.430/.690 since the deal.
Prospects are prospects– there’s no guarantee that they’ll make good on their potential and put together a successful Major League career. But, let’s say three of the ten prospects the Dodgers gave up throughout the past two months pan-out– Jerry Sands, Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster. Jerry Sands has a .290/.376/.590 career line in the minors and would develop into a middle of the order bat in that case. De La Rosa’s surgically repaired elbow will probably keep him out of the ace spot, but he’d be a nasty number-two behind Clayton Kershaw. Allen Webster has 91-94 MPH fastball, good command and nice groundball rates. If he pans-out, he’ll be a Derek Lowe or Ian Kennedy-type pitcher. That would give the Dodgers three players that could potentially combine for a 10+ WAR annually, all for less than $15 million (total) over the next three seasons. Compare that to the $109 million over the next three years for a combined 8 or 9 WAR from the three fallen stars they acquired– 5 WAR for Gonzo and 3 or 4 from Crawford and Beckett annually. Which is the better deal? It would be even better if one of two more of those guys turn in to very good players. But that’s not the only major difference between the two scenarios. Under the first scenario, where these prospects stick with the Dodgers and turn in to stars, the savings would allow the team to buy an impact-level player on the free agent market, like Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke.
All and all, the Dodgers made a bad trade here. Their intentions were good and sincere. You can’t really blame the franchises’ new management for opening their wallets for a World Series ring. But the fact is, Los Angeles is killing themselves by taking-on so much salary and so many off-field problems. Adrian Gonzalez is a star, but he isn’t worth Carl Crawford’s contact and losing as much talent as LA forked-over. If it was closer to a straight-up waiver claim, where the Dodgers agreed to accept a hefty portion of Crawford’s contract if they got Gonzalez out of the deal, that would’ve been a bearable trade for both sides. But taking Beckett too, and then sending some of their most valuable young players packing? Ouch.