The Dodgers and Red Sox are the first two teams to secure berths in their respective League Championship Series, with the former dispatching the Braves from the National League Division Series on Monday night and the latter eliminating the Rays from their American League Division Series on Tuesday. Whether or not the two teams take the next step to meet in the World Series, their current shape owes much to the stunning blockbuster trade they pulled off on Aug. 25, 2012, and as such, it merits a look back.
The deal allowed the Red Sox to clean house after the team’s September 2011 collapse morphed into an even unhappier 2012, one in which Boston lost 93 games, its highest total since 1965. In sending Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto to Los Angeles, the Sox freed themselves from more than $270 million in future salary commitments while unloading players generally perceived to be unhappy in Boston for one reason or another. Crawford remains bitter about his Beantown experience, and neither he nor Gonzalez would talk to Boston-based muckraker Dan Shaughnessy when the Sox visited L.A. for an interleague series that coincidentally marked the one-year anniversary of the trade.
The players the Red Sox received in return — Rubby De La Rosa, Ivan De Jesus, James Loney, Jerry Sands and Allen Webster — made little direct impact on the 2013 team; in fact, De Jesus, Loney and Sands were gone from the organization before the season started. Instead Boston filled the spots of the departed players with lower-cost free agents such as Ryan Dempster, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino. As a result, not only did the team cut its Opening Day payroll from $175.2 million in 2012 to $154.6 million this year, but those signing by and large paid off handsomely as the Sox won an AL-high 97 games and claimed the AL East flag for the first time since 2007.
For the Dodgers, the acquisition of the aforementioned quartet wasn’t enough to spur a run to the playoffs in 2012, but this year, those players did help Los Angeles to 92 wins and its first NL West title since 2009. While the amount of salary the Dodgers took on at almost no discount came as a shock, it did nothing to hinder the new ownership group — which had purchased the team for a record $2.15 billion in the spring of 2012 — from continuing to spend money. Moreover, the additions anticipated the erosion of the free agent market as a means of acquiring high-end talent, though it remains to be seen whether Gonzalez and Crawford, in particular, will maintain their value as they age.
When looked at from a strictly sabermetric standpoint, calling the trade a win for both sides may not make total sense. For 2013, the Dodgers netted 7.0 Wins Above replacement from the four players they received, at a cost of $58.25 million — not a good return given that the cost of a win on the free agent market is about $5-6 million. Even so, Los Angeles got significantly more value from three of their four roster spots relative to 2012, and that expenditure didn’t prevent them from pushing their payroll above $200 million. While Beckett, Crawford and Gonzalez may not earn their entire keeps over the remainder of their deals, the Dodgers at least didn’t have to sacrifice any compensatory draft picks to get them.
On the Red Sox side, the two players still with the team came in at -1.2 WAR for some prorated fraction of the minimum salary, but their value lies in the years of club control they still have remaining as well as the payroll flexibility that enabled general manager Ben Cherington to make moves that helped return the team to its winning ways.
What follows is a closer look at the trajectory of each player involved in the trade, starting with the Dodgers as their end of the deal is more visible at this time.
Amid a barrage of injuries, the 31-year-old first baseman was the Dodgers’ steadiest player in 2013. His 157 games were 15 more than Andre Ethier and 25 more than any other regular, and both his 22 homers and 100 RBIs led the team.
Gonzalez’s final batting line (.293/.342/.461) wasn’t tremendously impressive, but it was a virtual carbon copy of his 2012 performance (.299/.344/.463) in a more pitcher-friendly context; as a result, his OPS+ rose from 117 to 126, and his Wins Above Replacement from 3.5 to 3.9. That’s still a ways off from his 2006-2011 peak (.297/.380/.520 for a 144 OPS+, with an average of 31 homers and 4.5 WAR) via five seasons in San Diego’s Petco Park and one in Fenway, and there’s reason to be concerned that his surgically repaired right shoulder (operated on in October 2010) will never allow him to reach those heights again. With $106 million still due over the next five years, he’ll have to age gracefully to maintain his value.
Crawford spent 33 days on the disabled list in June and July due to a hamstring strain but was still more productive this season than in his injury-plagued days in Boston. He hit .283/.329/.407 for a 108 OPS+ and 1.7 WAR, up from .260/.292/.419 for an 89 OPS+ and a combined 0.6 WAR in 2011 and ’12.
Still, that’s a far cry from the performance in Tampa Bay that induced the Sox to sign him for $142 million over seven years in December 2010. As a Ray he hit .306/.360/.473 for a 125 OPS+ in 2009 and ’10 while averaging 17 homers, 54 steals and 6.0 WAR. This year, he stole just 19 bases and homered six times, with his power disappearing after April; he hit just .276/.312/.378 from May through September before erupting for a .353/.421/.882 line and three home runs in the Division Series, with two of those homers coming in Monday’s clincher. Still, he’s due $82.5 million over the next four years and has a long way to go before he’ll be worth that money.
Jokingly referred to as the centerpiece of “the Nick Punto trade,” the 35-year-old utilityman came in particularly handy this year for the injury-riddled Dodgers. He started 71 games at second base, shortstop and third base, hit .255/.328/.327 in 335 PA — his highest total since 2009 — slid into first base at every opportunity and shredded the jersey of any player who collected a walk-off hit for the Dodgers. His 2.2 WAR was more than enough to justify his $1.5 million salary, and was in fact his highest total since 2008. Given that, it would hardly be a shock if Los Angeles retains him once he reaches free agency this winter.
After getting lit up for a 5.23 ERA in 21 starts with Boston in 2012, Beckett showed signs of improvement upon moving to the Dodgers, posting a 2.93 ERA in seven late-season starts. Alas, he struggled mightily in 2013 and was torched for a 5.19 ERA and 1.7 homers per nine in eight starts through mid-May before going on the disabled list due to an irritated nerve.
It was ultimately discovered that he had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and he underwent surgery in July, shelving him for the year. Los Angeles will try to salvage some value out of him in 2014, when he’ll make $15.75 million in the final season of his four-year deal.
After batting a dismal .254/.302/.344 in 359 PA for the Dodgers in 2012 — a continuation of his long downward slide from his 2007 rookie season — Loney skidded even more severely upon moving to Boston. Playing nearly every day in Gonzalez’s place over the final month of the season, he hit just .230/.264/.310 with two homers in 106 PA and finished the year with -1.1 WAR.
Not surprisingly, he received little attention upon hitting the free agent market, but the budget-minded Rays signed him for $2 million and got a strong return for their money. Even though he tailed off considerably in the second half, the 29-year-old lefty finished at .299/.348/.430; his 13 homers and 118 OPS+ matched his best marks since ’07, while his 2.7 WAR was a career high. His .351/.404/.486 line in 307 PA away from Tropicana Field made for the highest road batting average of any player with at least 200 PA.
In addition to flashing the leather in impressive fashion, he went 6-for-16 with a pair of doubles in the Rays’ abbreviated postseason run. His fine season should help him draw considerably more interest this winter than he got last time around.
The 49th-ranked prospect on Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list and the talk of the Red Sox camp back in spring, the 23-year-old Webster spent the season shuttling between Triple-A Pawtucket and the majors, being recalled on four separate occasions and making a total of seven starts and one relief appearance. Alas, while he put up solid numbers at Pawtucket (3.60 ERA and 9.9 strikeouts per nine) and flashed mid-90s heat at the major league level, he struggled with his command and control when given the chance by the Sox and was knocked around for an 8.60 ERA and 2.1 homers per nine in 30 1/3 innings.
He still projects as a third or fourth starter at the major league level by virtue of three plus pitches (fastball, slider changeup), but he’s far from claiming a spot in Boston’s rotation.
Rubby De La Rosa
De La Rosa tantalized in 60 2/3 innings with the Dodgers in 2011 before needing Tommy John surgery, and he threw just 9 2/3 competitive innings in 2012, so 2013 was really a comeback year for him. Not surprisingly, he had control problems at Pawtucket, walking 5.4 per nine while striking out 8.5 en route to a 4.26 ERA in 80 1/3 innings, mostly as a short-stint starter. The 24-year-old righty made 11 appearances for the Red Sox totaling 11 1/3 innings, all in relief. That may be where his future lies given his high-90s heat, inconsistent secondary offerings and mechanical issues, but his ceiling is as a closer, so he may yet have a big major league impact.
Ivan De Jesus
A 25-year-old utility infielder at the time of the trade, De Jesus collected just eight plate appearances with the Red Sox after being dealt, and still had only 80 in his major league career by the end of last season, with a .205/.253/.247 line. The Sox sent him to Pittsburgh in December as part of the Joel Hanrahan/Mark Melancon trade, but he has yet to debut for the Pirates. He hit .319/.380/.457 in 345 plate appearances at Triple-A Indianapolis this year, but may be stuck with the “organizational depth” tag unless another team envisions a larger role.
Sands, an outfielder/first baseman who homered 26 times for the Dodgers’ Triple-A Albuquerque team in 2012, never got to play for the Red Sox, and like De Jesus, he was sent to Pittsburgh in the Hanrahan/Melancon trade. He didn’t get to play for the Pirates either. The now-26-year-old righty hit just .207/.311/.329 with seven homers in 397 PA at Indianapolis, making headlines only for a one-game suspension for going into the stands to confront a heckler in Toledo. He did miss time in June with a hamstring injury, and again like De Jesus, looks more like organizational depth than anything else.