You can open your eyes now. The carnage is over.
The Boston Red Sox have officially and finally acknowledged what everyone else in the world had already come to grips with a month ago – there was something systemically wrong on Yawkey Way, and the only way to fix it was by overhauling.
So on August 25, they actually did it. They said goodbye to Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and $270 (ish) million worth of salary and wiped the slate clean.
The “Best team ever!” didn’t even last two full seasons together. In one fell swoop, the Red Sox brass shifted the public perception of their franchise from a bunch overpaid bums to a group with a shot at competing again soon, despite giving up 11 all-star appearances, their best hitter, their top two free agent signings from last year, their top three-highest paid players (per year), one World Series MVP, their supposed No. 2 and 3 hitters, their second-fastest player, a guy with three Gold Gloves and a guy who has finished in the top 10 of the Cy Young voting twice.
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The only Major League asset they got back was a washed up first baseman who will be a free agent at the end of the year and is slugging .341.
And somehow, amazingly, it was the right move.
The Red Sox were handcuffed with bad contracts so tightly that Houdini wouldn’t have even tried to get out of them. He would have given up, because not even the best magician in the world would have have been able to get out from under those deals. Not only had the Red Sox drastically overvalued players, but they had babied those players and given in to them in such a way that they had created a monster. The players didn’t care about the games and didn’t respect their manager. The manager didn’t respect the GM. Ownership routinely stepped over the GM to make decisions. The fans hated ownership, the GM, the players and the manager.
You know what the general mindset of the fans and followers of the team was at this time last week?
“S**t, not only are we going to finish below .500 and miss the playoffs by a mile, but we have no valuable Major League trade chips, we’re saddled with horrible contracts and the pitching staff is terrible. Once this season comes to a close, there isn’t even anything the team can do in the offseason to improve the club except trading Josh Beckett for 20 cents on the dollar and also eating three-quarters of his hefty contract. We’re screwed for the next few years until some of this money comes off the books. How did everything get so fu**ed up?”
And the mindset now?
“The Dodgers took ALL THREE of those guys? You’re telling me that the Red Sox were able to move Josh Beckett, a broken down 30-something, oft-injured righthander who can’ t get out of the fifth inning, is drastically overpaid and is universally despised in this city? And you’re telling me that the Red Sox were able to move Carl Crawford, a guy they signed to a $142 million contract in 2011 - which was $30 million more than anyone else was offering – who has an on-base percentage of .290 in his time in Boston, missed most of this season, hit .255 last year in the first year of a seven-year deal and JUST HAD TOMMY JOHN SURGERY?
Wait what? There’s more? All the Sox had to do in order to get the Dodgers to take those two guys was to take James Loney, eat $12 million in salary and send over Adrian Gonzalez, a guy who has fallen completely out of public favor in this town for the way he acts off the field (blaming God for the Sox collapse, leading the mutiny against Bobby V) and his Wade Boggs-ness on the field, and is just finishing up the first year of his 7-year, $154 million deal? Meaning he still has over $130 million left on his contract? And the Dodgers inexplicably want Nick Punto, too?
What are we missing? Why are the Dodgers doing this? Ah, f**k, never mind. Don’t question it. THIS IS AWESOME!!!”
And that’s it. The Red Sox found the absolute perfect trade partner – a team under new ownership, in contention, craving an elite first baseman, with tons of money to spend and hoping to make a big splash so the fans would know that they were fully invested in putting a formidable product on the field.
They found a team that had wanted Gonzalez all season, only the Sox weren’t interested in moving him earlier because he was their big coup of the previous offseason, but once the Sox fell out of contention, that didn’t matter anymore They found a team in California, where Gonzalez is from. And they found a team that had just fallen below its division rival (the Giants) in the standings, so the Giants wouldn’t be able to block any waiver claims the Dodgers made on Gonzalez.
It was a perfect storm of the Red Sox needing the largest life raft available and the Dodgers sailing up in their brand new yacht, being steered by Magic Johnson and fully loaded with rafts. There was no other feasible way for this deal to go down other then the way it happened.
The most amazing part of the deal is that the Red Sox were able to make a transaction that wasn’t strictly a salary dump. Think about this – they paid only the aforementioned $12 million as part of the trade. Why? If the Dodgers had said, “We’re not doing the trade unless you agree to pick up $50 million,” wouldn’t the Sox still have done it? How about for 60? 75? 100? I don’t know how high the number could have gone, but for some reason the Dodgers were content to take $12 mil and move on.
And, to go along with not forcing the Sox to pay at least a decent amount of the money, the Dodgers sent back the top two pitchers in their farm system.
It’s simply too good to be true, from a baseball standpoint and from a perception standpoint. Baseball-wise, it made sense because two of the three players they traded away are non-performers. They are dead money. Josh Beckett has been one of the single worst pitchers in all of baseball (you think it’s hyperbole? Go look at what he’s done this year) and Carl Crawford has been one of the worst leftfielders in all of baseball over the past two years (hyperbole? Again…just look). Losing Gonzalez is the only real subtraction, and don’t get me wrong – it’s a big one. He’s the best hitter on the team, even if it is frustrating to regularly watch him extend hitting streaks with a two-out, eighth-inning slap single with the team trailing by six runs.
But the bottom line is that first basemen can be replaced. Somewhere, somehow, the Red Sox can replace Gonzalez. They probably won’t have an MVP candidate there, but they’ll find a capable guy who can provide a little bit of pop, at the very least. In the other two slots, the team will upgrade automatically, basically by just grabbing someone who is on par with the league average. So what’s it all mean?
They gave up three Major Leaguers and didn’t really get worse. And, they freed up over a quarter of a billion dollars in salary.
From a perception standpoint, they now have a chance to once again captivate a market they’ve dominated in the past. With their collapse from last year coinciding with strong seasons from the region’s other three teams (Patriots in the Super Bowl, Bruins win a Stanley Cup, Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals), they are no longer the darling in New England. They’re not everyone’s favorite team, and they’re not selling out Fenway Park even if they tell you they are.
Worse than that, the 2012 Boston Red Sox are DESPISED everywhere. The rest of the country loved watching this sideshow of a season, and the fans here found themselves strapped with the most unlikable team to ever wear a Red Sox uniform (that’s seriously what the elders say).
Now the team can right that wrong almost immediately. They can sell what they just did to the public. Essentially, they can say, “See? We do care about baseball, and we do care about you. We know that there are some problems, and we’re doing all we can to fix it.”
And they’ll be right, for the first time in a while.
All season long, it’s felt like no one within the team has understood. No one has acknowledged the problems. Player would constantly say that they were doing their best, while Valentine would praise their work ethic. The players would say that they don’t dislike Bobby, and Bobby would say that he doesn’t dislike the players.
Rumors of clubhouse unrest were universally denied by the people in the clubhouse. Larry Lucchino blamed the losing on injuries. John Henry said that the problems surrounding the team were a media creation. Everybody simply pretended that everything was as normal as could be, even though every day there was a new report of the chaos that existed within every facet of the team.
Everybody put up a facade. Until now.
By making this trade, the Red Sox acknowledged that they messed up the last few years. They acknowledged that everything isn’t as perfect and green as the ballpark looks on a Sunday afternoon, and they decided that they couldn’t actively lie to their fan base anymore. They realized that we’re not all as stupid as they think.
So thanks for that. It’s nice to have a little bit of hope again.