It was the trade heard around the world, and seemingly a signal of a changing of the guard in Major League Baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers were just a year removed from bankruptcy. Frank and Jamie McCourt’s divorce the first sign that the team was about to experience some financial difficulties.
The Dodgers officially filed for bankruptcy in June of 2011, and McCourt reached an agreement with the league to sell the Dodgers. Guggenheim Partners agreed to buy the team in March 2012. The ownership group was lead by Guggenheim CEO Mark Walter and included legendary Los Angeles athlete Magic Johnson.
It was the most expensive sports franchise purchase in history, and the Dodgers’ nightmare was seemingly over.
The new ownership group was committed to spending as much money possible to win, and the biggest example of that came in August 2012. The Dodgers traded James Loney, Ivan DeJesus, Jr., Allen Webster, and 2 players to be named later (Rubby De La Rosa and Jerry Sands) to the the Boston Red Sox for Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto, and $11 million in cash.
The Dodgers took on $262.5 million in that trade alone. Observers around the league shivered at the thought of the Dodgers becoming the west coast Yankees, and going on a run of domination with high priced players. I’ve always thought it is foolish to grade trades immediately after they happen, but this August marks 4 years since that famous trade. Enough time has passed to make a fair assessment.
Looking at the collective team success of the two clubs since that trade, it’s not comparable. The Red Sox won a World Series just a year after the trade. The remarkable thing is that none of those players acquired played a big role in that World Series win.
Loney was a rental player for 2012, DeJesus, Jr. only played 8 games with Boston, and Webster had an ERA over 6 in 18 starts for the Red Sox. The two players that were later named also didn’t make much impact. Sands never played for the Red Sox, and was traded to the Pirates in December 2012 in a deal that also sent DeJesus, Jr. away.
De La Rosa was unspectacular, appearing in 30 games for the Red Sox over two seasons and having an ERA in the mid 4s. The fact that De La Rosa ended up being their most influential return from that trade is astounding on its surface, especially because the Dodgers got a combined 11 All Star appearance as a part of their imported package.
The trade raised a lot of eyebrows around the league. Beckett had an ERA over 5 through 21 starts that season, Crawford had severely underachieved in his two seasons with the Red Sox compared to his tenure in Tampa Bay, and although Gonzalez’s BA, OBP, and SLG had increased since his trade to Boston compared to his time in San Diego, he had failed to hit 30 home runs in 2011 for the first time since 2006, and was on his way to falling short again in 2012, despite speculation that Fenway Park was going to increase his home run totals.
Gonzalez was the player being sold at the highest stock, but Crawford and Beckett were both stars only recently removed from dominance. Beckett had an ERA under 3 in 2011, and Crawford had 47 SBs, 19 home runs, and a .307 BA in 2010.
The Red Sox were essentially hitting the reset button on a failed 2012 season, and wanted to shed some contracts that they weren’t getting a fair return on. The Dodgers were happy to oblige, and saw these three players as talented albeit expensive stars, who would help make their team more formidable.
The shocking result was how quickly the Red Sox were able to turn things around. They went from 69-93 in 2012 to 97-65 and World Series champions in 2013.
It was a rough couple seasons for the Dodgers after this trade. The Giants won the World Series in 2012, and then the team that they made this huge trade with won the next season. The Giants winning it all again in 2014 was just another devastating blow.
Mike Napoli was signed to play 1B for Boston and served as a replacement for Gonzalez. Napoli hit 23 home runs, 38 doubles, 92 RBIs, and had a .360 OBP in 2013. It wasn’t quite Gonzalez numbers, but still solid, and not to mention cheaper.
To replace Crawford in left field, the Red Sox used a combination of Johnny Gomes and Daniel Nava. Both of them got on base more frequently than Crawford had, and also showed more pop.
The Red Sox’s rotation wasn’t that bad without Beckett. In 2013, they ranked tied for 3rd in quality starts, 6th in BA against, and 10th in SLG against. They were an above average staff. They were still able to succeed despite shedding the contracts of these star players. Had the Dodgers had more postseason prosperity since this trade, it’d be easier to award mutual praise to both the actors involved.
The legacy of this trade might end up being one of profound disappointment for the Dodgers, though.
Beckett was 32 when he was acquired, and seemingly had a few solid seasons left in his arm. However, injuries soon struck. In 2012, he had a 2.93 ERA in 7 starts for the Dodgers. There was a lot of optimism for 2013, but he got off to a poor start and was eventually sidelined with a groin injury.
While on the DL, he began to feel numbness in his hand, and it was unknown whether this nerve damage would allow him to pitch again. He had a rib removed as part of the surgical procedure to correct the issue, and was able to return in 2014. In May of that season, he incredibly tossed a no-hitter.
The rest of the season was injury plagued for him, though, and he ended up retiring after the season. Although it was a smaller sample size, Beckett had a lower ERA with the Dodgers than he did with either the Marlins or Red Sox. He was poised to be a great pitcher for the Dodgers, but unfortunately injuries interfered with that plan.
Although he was somewhat of an afterthought in the trade, there was still excitement about what Punto could bring to the club. He was a utility infielder who brought versatility and good defense. Offensively, he did a decent job. He got on base at an acceptable rate, but the fact that he had a higher OBP than SLG with the Dodgers illustrates his severe lack of anything resembling power.
He served his role admirably, but Punto’s performance was never going to be the critical factor of whether this trade could be called a success.