Published August 23, 2013
LOS ANGELES – Last summer's blockbuster was a win for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a win for the Boston Red Sox, a win for the fans of both teams.
The thing I still don't get -- the thing that has yet to be fully explained -- is why the Dodgers took on all but $11 million of the $275.69 million guaranteed the players they acquired.
If the Dodgers had said, "Sorry, we want $100 million, not $11 million, especially when we're also giving you four prospects," I'm guessing that the Sox still would have jumped.
But Sox president Larry Lucchino, in an interview this week, told me that I was incorrect, that the Sox wanted almost complete financial relief.
The Dodgers, looking to make a statement, were willing to provide it.
The size of their new TV deal increased from a proposed $3 billion over 17 years from FOX to a reported $7 billion over 25 years from Time Warner, in part due to the perception that the team's new Guggenheim ownership -- as opposed to the previous owner, Frank McCourt -- was all-in.
So, who am I to quibble over $100 million?
Nearly one year later, the Dodgers and Red Sox lead their divisions. And when the teams meet this weekend at Dodger Stadium (Saturday, 4:05 p.m. ET, MLB on FOX), it could very well be a World Series preview. Uh, and let the record show that the Dodgers didn't exactly stop spending after the Red Sox trade, committing $147 million to free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke, $42 million to Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig and nearly $62 million in contract and posting fee to Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Left-hander Clayton Kershaw will be next, perhaps becoming the game's first $200 million pitcher. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez also is a candidate for an extension, but, yes, the end of the Dodgers' spending spree might actually be near.
The team does not plan to pursue Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano in free agency, focusing instead on restocking its farm system and acquiring international talent, according to major league sources.
Then again, I'll believe the Dodgers are out on Cano when I attend his news conference at the winter meetings to his announce his signing with another club, most likely the Yankees.
With apologies to Alex Rodriguez, who recently accused the Yankees of sinister motives, calling them the "pink elephant" in the room, the Dodgers actually are the blue elephant in the room, haunting 29 other clubs.
The trade with the Red Sox was not the Dodgers' first big move under new ownership -- they already had signed right fielder Andre Ethier to an $85 million extension, acquired Ramirez from the Miami Marlins and claimed Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee off waivers, only to see the Phils pull him back.
But the blockbuster was the topper.
"The story changed overnight from, 'Let's see what they're going to do,' to, 'Oh my gosh, is there any stopping them?' " team president Stan Kasten said.
Kasten had told Dodgers executives, even before baseball officially approved the new ownership in May 2012, to revisit their old wish lists, the players they never could acquire during McCourt's tight-fisted rein.
Kasten, in turn, contacted a number of rival clubs, including the Red Sox, saying the Dodgers would be prepared to take on big contracts in trades. Lucchino still recalls Kasten giving him that news, telling him, "This is a call unlike any I have made in my career as a baseball executive." Kasten previously had worked for the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves, occasionally spending big but nothing like what the Dodgers were envisioning.
According to sources with both clubs, here is how the blockbuster evolved:
Adrian Gonzalez had special appeal to the Dodgers -- the team had a long-term need at first base, the upcoming free-agent classes at that position were weak and Gonzalez's Mexican-American heritage presented strong marketing possibilities in Los Angeles. But when Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti asked Red Sox GM Ben Cherington about Gonzalez in May, Cherington told him no.
Colletti asked again in July, and Cherington still said no but not as firmly as before. The Red Sox, at that point, were not willing to concede their season. The teams actually came close on a deal that would have sent right-hander Josh Beckett to the Dodgers before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, but Gonzalez was not involved.
Soon, that would change.
The Sox played poorly in August, prompting team officials to begin internal conversations about how to proceed in the offseason. One idea was to build around their core and take another shot in 2013. Another was to shed salaries and attempt a larger reboot. The Sox, though, weren't thinking they could reshape their payroll in August. Players would need to go through waivers, complicating matters.
The turning point came at the owners' meetings in Denver on Aug. 16, when the Dodgers' Kasten and Mark Walter made it clear to the Red Sox's Lucchino, Tom Werner and John Henry that the Dodgers were motivated to make a splash.
Lucchino said Henry, the Sox's principal owner, took an active role with Walter, the Dodgers' chairman, helping revive the discussions. Colletti and Cherington kept talking; ditto for Kasten and Lucchino.
"One of the great lessons for me was the dynamic (that emerged) between baseball operations and ownership," Lucchino said. "Often there is a communication problem or turf problem that gets in the way. This was one of the best examples of smooth communication between baseball operations and ownership to accomplish a mutually important goal."
Internally, the Sox's baseball people had decided that if they were ever going to trade Gonzalez, they would want to attach other contracts to him and get quality young talent in return. Hence, the initial framework for the trade: Gonzalez, Beckett and outfielder Carl Crawford to the Dodgers for right-handers Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa.
Other pieces were added. The Dodgers needed infielder Nick Punto to replace the injured Jerry Hairston. The Red Sox agreed to take first baseman James Loney, knowing he would have been displaced by Gonzalez in Los Angeles. And the Dodgers added two other minor leaguers to the deal.
The final version of the trade was announced on Aug. 25: Gonzalez, Crawford, Beckett and Punto for Loney, Webster, infielder Ivan DeJesus Jr. and two players to be named: De La Rosa and outfielder Jerry Sands.
The Dodgers were excited to get six additional years of Gonzalez, five of Crawford, two of Beckett and one of Punto. None is under contract past age 36. But of course, it remains to be seen how valuable each will be.
Beckett pitched well for the Dodgers after the trade but made only eight starts this season before undergoing neck and shoulder surgery. Gonzalez still is quite good but no longer hits as many home runs as he did in San Diego, and his Wins Above Replacement this season (2.5) is the same as that of Loney, according to Fangraphs.com.
(Crawford is at 2.3 WAR while the often-overlooked Punto checks in at 1.4; Colletti teases Punto that Nick is his middle name and "And" is his first, as in Gonzalez, Crawford, Beckett and Nick Punto.)
The Red Sox, meanwhile, put their savings to good use, investing $124.49 in nine players last offseason but signing only one, outfielder Shane Victorino, for as long as three years. They also used Sands and DeJesus, two of the prospects acquired from the Dodgers, in their ill-fated trade for reliever Joel Hanrahan.
And the Sox's newfound flexibility again was on display in July when the team added nearly $3 million in salary with left-handed reliever Matt Thornton and nearly $20 million with right-hander Jake Peavy.
So, the blockbuster is a win-win, at least for now. But it still could tilt one way or the other depending upon future performance -- the Red Sox's end, for example, could look even better if Gonzalez and Crawford fade and Webster emerges as a top-of-the-rotation starter.
The Dodgers' quarter-billion-plus investment in the Red Sox's players also could become an issue if the L.A. ownership eventually tightens the budget, but that's a problem for another day, if it even becomes a problem at all.
I still think the Dodgers could have squeezed more money out of the Red Sox, but if the Guggenheim folks didn't care, why should I?
A year later, the trade is still a stunner.
I'll take my quibbling somewhere else.