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August 27, 2012

Transaction Analysis

L.A. Consequential

by R.J. Anderson and Kevin Goldstein


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
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Reportedly will acquire 1B-L James Loney, OF-R Jerry Sands, INF-R Ivan De Jesus, RHP Rubby De La Rosa, and RHP Allen Webster from the Dodgers for 1B-L Adrian Gonzalez, OF-L Carl Crawford, RHP Josh Beckett, and INF-S Nick Punto, and cash. [8/24]

Impact on playoff odds: -0.3 percent

It's not often that a team moves more than $230 million in contractual obligations with a single trade, but Ben Cherington and the Red Sox have done just that. In a way, Cherington is following a NBA formula. He had to sacrifice the potential maximum return on Gonzalez in order to hand off two potentially toxic contracts. In return, Cherington gets budget room, Webster, and a few other possibly useful pieces. It’s yet another sign that Cherington is willing to make a bold move when one presents itself as sensible.

Do Boston fans ever yearn for Doug Mientkiewicz? If so, Loney will be a welcome sight. A constant tease, Loney is a big, athletic first baseman who hits as though he were a middle infielder. Loney is a good defender and his poor season at the plate is atypical, even by his admittedly low standards. His inclusion seems based on two angles: 1) someone has to play first base for Boston and 2) his remaining salary serves as cash ballast. Boston fans would be smart to not get attached: Loney is a free agent at season’s end. His stay in Boston, like Mientkiewicz’s before, may last for only weeks.

De La Rosa will head to the Red Sox as a player to be named later. The Dodgers had placed him on waivers in anticipation of including him in the trade, but a team—believed to be Toronto—placed a claim. The Dodgers optioned him to Double-A soon thereafter, and he’s likely to sit out the remainder of the season until he can become Boston property without the assistance of waivers. De La Rosa only recently returned from Tommy John surgery. His velocity is stunning; the rest of his arsenal still needs polish. It’s possible that his long-term home is in the bullpen.

Kevin Goldstein recently shared a scout’s observations of Webster:

“It's all there,” said a National League scout who was taken off his coverage to see the team. “When everything is going, he has three average-to-plus pitches and knows what to do with them.” The scout noted that Webster's game has matured, as well. “He knows he has a really good—and potentially special—changeup, but he's not over-relying on it anymore,” the scout explained. “It's like he finally figured out that setting that pitch up with 92-94 mph heat is the best way to go about it, and his curveball has improved as well. He used to get over the ball and it wouldn't finish, but now it's breaking through the zone much better.”

The Dodgers were reluctant to include Webster in their various other trades this deadline, so for them to part with him now tells you how eager they were to get the deal done. R.J. Anderson

With his stunningly good second half, Webster had eclipsed Zach Lee as the top pitching prospect in the Dodgers’ system, with some scouts upping his ceiling from a potential three to a potential two. With his velocity and high-quality secondary offering, it's an understandable projection now that he seems to have harnessed his stuff.

Sands has put up big numbers at Albuquerque, but he's never quite inspired enough faith to earn a shot at replacing Loney's weak bat at first base. He fell out of favor when he struggled to make the adjustments needed at the big-league level. His career .291/.363/.557 line at Triple-A is certainly impressive, but it comes with all the warnings that are usually attached to a player at one of the minors’ best hitting environments, and his splits don’t tell us much, as his division was filled with equally wonderful places to put up numbers. He's a bit of a bat-only type as a hulking slugger with well below-average speed, but he's decent in left field, although his arm is lacking. He'll get a long look at first base, but has a peak projection for most as a second-division starter who can hold down the fort until someone better comes along.

De Jesus was a highly regarded prospect following the 2008 season, when he hit .324/.419/.423 at Double-A Jacksonville and profiled as a quality middle infielder with excellent on-base skills. He suffered a broken leg during spring training in 2009, and his prospect stock has been on a steady slide since. He's no longer a patient hitter, but he does show a solid line-drive bat. In the field, he's lost more than a step and now lacks the speed for shortstop and the offensive profile for third base. He doesn't have enough of a bat to be an everyday second baseman, which isn't happening in Boston anyway, so his best bet is to turn into a utility player who can at least handle the left side in a pinch due to his defensive fundamentals. —Kevin Goldstein

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Reportedly will acquire 1B-L Adrian Gonzalez, OF-L Carl Crawford, RHP Josh Beckett, and INF-S Nick Punto, and cash from the Red Sox for 1B-L James Loney, OF-R Jerry Sands, INF-R Ivan De Jesus, RHP Rubby De La Rosa, and RHP Allen Webster. [8/24]

Impact on playoff odds: +3.1 percent

The Dodgers have been the league’s most active buyer this season. It shows. Ned Colletti’s bunch entered July 25 with a 14.7 percent chance at making the postseason. Now, after acquiring Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Brandon League, and seemingly everyone else on the market, the Dodgers have roughly doubled their odds.

Gonzalez is the best player in the trade and therefore the key to the deal on the Dodgers’ end. Although he's in the midst of a down season, he still ranks 10th in True Average among first basemen. Whenever an unathletic 30-something-year-old goes through a down season, there will be concerns about his long-term viability. But whereas Gonzalez’s contract would normally viewed as an impediment, it actually looks like a potential perk when compared to the contracts signed by other top-tier first basemen in recent months:

Adrian Gonzalez Versus Other Big-Time First Basemen, 2009-12

Player

PA (2009-12)

TAv (2009-12)

Remaining Contract

Adrian Gonzalez

2,615

.317

6 years, $148m

Prince Fielder

2,659

.318

8 years, $191m

Albert Pujols

2,577

.333

9 years, $228m

Joey Votto

2,281

.335

11 years, $235m


Declines in power and walk rate are the differences between this season and Gonzalez’s past efforts. It’s possible that his numbers have been affected by a bum shoulder. It’s also possible that he’s back to being very good; nine of his 15 home runs have come in the second half, and five of those have been hit in August.

Besides being a massive upgrade at the plate over James Loney, Gonzalez brings a familiarity with the division, a very good glove, and a great hitting mind to the table. There are few batters with more smarts, and his wit is part of the reason why Gonzalez should continue to be a productive hitter, even as his physical tools fade. Surrounding Gonzalez with Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and the aforementioned Ramirez gives the Dodgers one of the league’s better middle-of-the-orders.

If Gonzalez’s inclusion is the good news for Dodgers fans, then Crawford’s inclusion is the bad news. There are two large, obvious downsides in acquiring Crawford. For one, he underwent Tommy John surgery on Thursday. Because Crawford is a position player, the timetable for his return is closer to Opening Day 2013 than next August or September. The other big downside is that, despite a .260/.292/.419 line these past two seasons, Crawford will be owed more than $101 million over the next five seasons.

Crawford appeared to be a legitimate MVP candidate as recently as the 2010 season. Injuries and underperformance have muddied his outlook, but there is some reason to believe he can return to decency, if not his superstar status. Crawford showed this season, albeit in a small sample, that his ability to hit big-league pitching remains. A move away from left field in Fenway should restore his plus-plus glove. The two questions Crawford will have to answer are whether he can say healthy, and whether he’ll put too much pressure on himself in an attempt to justify the contract and trade, which was one of the reasons provided to explain his struggles last season.

Beckett returns to the National League some six-plus years after the Marlins shipped him to Boston. He's no longer the 25-year-old whiz kid he was then. Despite a 2.89 ERA last season, Beckett’s gadabout ways during games were supposedly a root cause for Boston’s collapse. The criticism carried over to this season, with off-day golf rounds becoming a key piece of evidence for the first time outside of divorce court. Ascribing all of Beckett’s issues to the circus-like atmosphere is being too kind: his stuff has regressed, as Dan Brooks and Kevin Goldstein explained earlier this year.

Goldstein says that Beckett’s 70 fastball has turned into a 55/60. His once-biting curve has lost a similar amount of stuff: Goldstein reports that he would be “leery” of putting a 60 rating on it and might call it a 50-plus. His cutter, he explains, is at best a 40. Given how often he throws it, the cutter could be something of an Achilles’ heel for Beckett going forward.

Goldstein is not terribly optimistic about Beckett’s performance going forward and grades him as a no. 4 or no. 5 starter going forward.

Joe Blanton has pitched like a no. 8 or 9 starter with the Dodgers (28 hit and 18 runs over 21 innings), so the Dodgers would be upgrading if Beckett pitches as though he were a true back-end starter. The move away from Boston and Fenway Park should help, if only on a surface level. Beckett is due more than $30 million over the next two seasons.

There’s a scene, in one of Kevin Smith’s DVD specials, where an audience member asks a question about facial hair involving Jesus Christ, Chuck Norris, and Chewbacca. The absurdity of linking the three together causes Smith to laugh and recite the names again for effect. Punto’s inclusion causes the same effect here. Imagine the introductory press conference: here are three players with a combined 11 All-Star appearances between them, and here is a 34-year-old utility infielder with a career 75 OPS+.

All joking aside, Punto should improve the bottom of the Dodgers roster. Currently, Juan Uribe, Adam Kennedy, and Luis Cruz serve as the team’s third basemen and backup infielders. On performance alone, one has to believe Uribe will be out—a familiar feeling for a player with a .260 on-base percentage these past two seasons, no doubt. Punto is having a poor season, too, but he brings more to the table than Uribe, namely on-base skills and defensive chops. He is due $1.5 million next season R.J. Anderson

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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