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A narrative about last August’s Red Sox and Dodgers trade has grown up, certainly in Boston and to a lesser extent in the national press. Essentially, the Dodgers foolishly helped the Red Sox by taking a bunch of expensive garbage off their hands. The Red Sox gladly took advantage of the Dodgers, passing off said garbage while also acquiring two top pitching prospects in Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa. Weighed down by their expensive Boston detritus, the Dodgers now languish in last place while the Red Sox, freed from these obligations, have floated towards the top of their division. In short, win for Boston, loss for Los Angeles. But I’m not so sure that’s the case.

When the trade was made the players headed to Los Angeles were looked at as under-performing and expensive. That’s mostly because they were. Carl Crawford had played 161 games over two seasons for Boston, producing just over a win in the process, and had followed that up by undergoing Tommy John surgery. Adrian Gonzalez was in the midst of his worst season since his first in San Diego, and was supposedly one of the organizers of a meeting with the front office to complain about manager Bobby Valentine. In retrospect it’s hard to fault Gonzalez for that one, though the optics aren’t great. Josh Beckett had taken his reputation from World Series hero to clubhouse cancer and added the cherry on top of a five-plus ERA. Nick Punto was who cares I don’t know why he was included in the trade. Point is, the players Boston sent west were not at the peak of their trade value, yet L.A. took them, their full contracts, and handed over two pitching prospects to boot.

The season ended with more mediocrity from Gonzalez, 43 innings of decent pitching from Beckett, nothing from the still-injured Crawford, and who cares he’s Nick Punto from Nick Punto. Sometime between then and spring training the narrative took hold. What readers of Baseball Prospectus surely know though is that you can’t judge a trade after two months of baseball and one offseason, let alone one of this complexity.

I would like to make four points about the trade to at least complicate narrative.

1. The Ex-Red Sox Are Playing Well In Los Angeles

If you look up the Dodgers’ positional players this season and sort by OPS, you’ll find their best hitter is Hanley Ramirez, who is on the DL, followed by Scott Van Slyke, with six plate appearances. After those guys, their top three hitters have been Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Nick Punto. While Josh Beckett has been, if not a garbage fire, then at least garbage, the other three have been every bit as good as the Dodgers could have hoped for.

It shouldn’t be all that surprising that Gonzalez and Crawford are having good seasons. Gonzalez is still in his peak, if just exiting it, and his down season in 2012 was both not so bad as down seasons go, and just that, a down season. While 2012 could have been the beginning of the end for Gonzalez, his body of work indicated that it probably wasn’t, so much as it was a down season. Of the two, Carl Crawford’s resurgence was likely more difficult to see, if hardly impossible. A look at Crawford’s career to-date shows two things; first, an impressive level of production, and second, an inability to play well when seriously injured. That isn’t a knock on Crawford. Many players, indeed almost all, play badly when seriously injured. His worst seasons have come in 2008, when he suffered through a hamstring strain and had surgery to repair a tendon in his finger; 2011, when another hamstring strain, plus elbow and thigh strains, left him hobbled; and 2012, when he played 31 games before season-ending surgery.

This might seem an overly selective argument – Crawford’s medical history is extensive, so much of his career has been spent in and around injuries – if it weren’t for his going under the knife first to repair his wrist and then ultimately for Tommy John elbow surgery. Anytime someone needs surgery of that severity, there has been a build-up. Crawford didn’t wake up one morning and think, “I need Tommy John surgery!” There was a gradual process of deterioration that took place that contributed to his performance at the plate and in the field while in Boston.

Health may have been no guarantee, but once achieved it’s a short leap to the old, good Carl Crawford’s reappearance. Like Gonzalez, Crawford is just 31, not an age when elite players typically dive off a cliff. Maybe it seems elementary with the help of hindsight, but if Crawford and Gonzalez play out the remainder of their contracts in L.A. as elite players, the Dodgers have to be pleased with this deal.

2. The Talent Disparity

Inarguably, the Red Sox lost a lot of talent in that trade. That is not nothing. A saying about trades is the team that gets the best player usually wins the trade. There is little doubt the Dodgers got not just the best player, but also the best players in this deal. Sure those players were owed lots of money, but both teams, and especially the Dodgers, have money. There is the luxury tax to consider, but both teams make enough money that they should be willing to pay for top talent. From that perspective both teams should have wanted those players, except that Boston had decided Beckett and Crawford needed to go and they were willing to deal Gonzalez, the player the Dodgers really wanted, to make it happen. The cost to L.A. has been discussed ad nauseum, but the cost to Boston was potentially high as well.

The Red Sox traded three of their better minor leaguers to get Gonzalez, lost a first round pick to sign Crawford, and, going back a ways, dealt away Hanley Ramirez to get Josh Beckett. There was significant cost to acquiring those three players, far greater than they recouped.

To date, Boston has replaced their discarded four with players on short-term deals. Those deals will expire and those players will have to be re-signed, or tossed aside and new players will have to be acquired. That isn’t necessarily a bad way to do things, but it does place a greater stress on the front office’s ability to assess and acquire talent. The Dodgers are locked in to Carl Crawford et al for five years. The Dodgers have bet Crawford, Gonzalez, and Beckett will perform well over that period of time. The Red Sox are betting they can spend the same amount of money differently and have a more positive impact on the field and off. But what if they make a mistake? The decision has already been made for LA, but Boston is going to have to make more decisions over the course of Crawford’s contract and the more decisions they have to make the greater the chance of a mistake. 

3. Good Free Agents Are Getting More Expensive And Rare

If you count Webster and De La Rosa as the lost first round picks for signing a protected free agent, the Dodgers signed Gonzalez, Crawford, and Beckett to six-, five- and two-year deals, respectively. No amazing bargains there, but none are egregious in length or total dollars compared to what players of their ilk might command on the free agent market.

While the Dodgers don’t have to fill those positions any longer and thus don’t have to mess with the market, the Red Sox still may. Daniel Nava is a good story and Jonny Gomes has a funny beard but neither is the long-term solution in left field that Crawford was. Mike Napoli is having a nice season but he has a degenerative hip condition that could flare up at any moment. He’s not likely a long-term solution either. Without Crawford or Gonzalez, the Red Sox may have to make trades (i.e. deal away minor-league talent) or sign free agents to fill those holes, and considering the dearth of free agent talent and the unsightly salaries those few who hit the market will demand, well, grabbing players already signed to long-term contracts doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.


The Red Sox did get two pitching prospects in De La Rosa and Webster from Los Angeles, but while pitching prospects may exist, there is nothing more uncertain than a young pitcher. Until getting bombed against the Twins last Wednesday, Webster was putting together quite the season. De La Rosa has had some good starts in Triple-A recently as well. Both could be studs in the rotation for a decade or more. That possibility exists, but the likelihood is that that won’t happen. The likelihood is probably closer to one of them getting hurt and the other ending up in the bullpen or the back of the rotation. That’s not pessimism, that’s what happens to pitching prospects. The Red Sox got talent, but volatile talent that could dry up at any moment, while the Dodgers got more certainty.

 * * * *

Everyone loves prospects, especially hard-throwing pitching ones, and there are few things fans dislike more than a veteran free agent sucking down a paycheck while contributing little on the field. So it isn’t surprising in retrospect that the team that traded expensive veterans to open up payroll flexibility while receiving prospects was viewed as the winner. But that doesn’t mean they won. The Dodgers got good players while the Red Sox subtracted them. The Dodgers spent money while the Red Sox freed it up.

Neither team has enough value on its side to claim victory in this deal. It may be that both teams win the trade. But the early returns from 2013 indicate that this wasn’t the one-sided slaughter of a deal that’s been portrayed. The Dodgers didn’t get the shaft, they got good players. Maybe we forgot that a little bit. 

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Matthew, when you talk about a narrative springing up it would be helpful if you linked to examples of it, because frankly this is the first I'm hearing of any 'Boston fleeced LA' talk.

I've seen Red Sox 'addition by subtraction' talk, and Dodgers 'disappointing start despite massive cash and talent infusion' talk, but nothing about the Red Sox actually winning that trade in baseball terms. I even just Googled it quickly, and all I found was one reference to a column in, of all places, the New York Post.

I'm not saying your piece is a bad one, but it seems like you're framing it with an unnecessary straw man argument. I mean, who actually "forgot" that Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are good players?
Hm. It's been the dominant narrative that the Red Sox pulled off a major coup by dumping the "toxic" contracts of Crawford and Beckett, and a declining onto the Dodgers, not just for salary relief, but for some decent prospects, too.

I don't think anyone thinks the Dodgers got suckered, but the narrative about LA was that they were spending like a drunken sailor, and that their willingness to take on millions in Beckett's and Crawford's contracts to essentially acquire Gonzo proved that they didn't care about costs.

To find this narrative in Boston, visit the Sons of Sam Horn and look around for comments on the "Nick Punto trade."
It's only an "unnecessary straw man argument" if you haven't heard of it. I would agree with touchstone that it has been the dominant narrative of that trade, and that not only was it a benefit for the Red Sox to dump the contracts, but to get prospects as well is the cherry on top.
I'm addressing a sentiment I've heard from many people and in the blogosphere over the off-season.

To answer your last question, I think after last season's disappointing performance, Adrian Gonzalez had his detractors, but lots of people didn't consider Carl Crawford to be a good player anymore.
Despite being a Sox fan, I appreciate seeing a contrary article regarding The Trade. Although I may not agree with all your arguments, the one point I have a problem with is your discussion regarding the cost the Sox had to pay to acquire the players it then sent to LA.
These prospects and picks are the definition of "sunk cost" and should never be part of a future decision or in the analysis of that decision.
The only part of this analysis that is different from last summer is Crawford has had his first good month in that 7-year contract. Everyone knew Adrian Gonzalez was a great player playing under a fair contract and he had to be surrendered to unload Beckett and Crawford and $200MM in obligations to those two. The Sox replaced Beckett, Crawford, and Gonzalez with Dubront, Victorino, and Napoli for about $200MM less (or $40MM less in 2013). And while the decisions to spend that money can result in mistakes, the bet is that they can make less than $200MM of mistakes given another chance.

In terms of what they got in return for their trades, don't forget the Sox got six years of Beckett (which included a World Series victory) and two years of Crawford and Gonzalez during the primes of their careers. And they gave up minor leaguers to get them, which are always a crapshoot.

And if we're going to judge this trade based on performance for the first 6 weeks of 2013, we should note the Sox are 5 over .500 and the Dodgers, with the prohibitive 2013 NL Cy Young favorite and this $60MM of 2013 talent, are 6 under .500, with the Sox projected to win more games than the Dodgers by year's end according to the Playoff Odds report.

Well, it doesn't seem very fair to judge this trade on the team's records, since we're talking about 4 guys on the Dodgers roster, 3 of whom have performed very very well. It's a lot of the other guys on the Dodgers who are dragging them down. (I'm looking at you, Luis Cruz, Carlos Quentin, and Hanley's hammy)
If your can't draw any conclusions from the last 2 months of last season, I don't think you can draw any conclusions from the first 2 months of this season either. Crawford is actually outperforming his career numbers at the moment and that seems unlikely to continue. Gonzalez is having a pretty typical Gonzalez year. The think I notice for both of them is that their BB and K rates are way down. They are both on the wrong side of 30. As with most trades, it is too early to tell who 'won' this trade. Ultimately if the Dodgers don't win a WS or 2 in that time fans are going to consider the trade to be a mistake.
I want to highlight the last bit about the WS wins. I don't think the Dodgers necessarily need to win it all, and not necessarily within just two years, but it's still an important metric.

When a front office goes on a spending spree, I think the goal in their own minds is to seriously vie for a championship. While it's important to gauge success and failure by as many benchmarks as possible, "Did these guys accomplish what they set out to do?" is really the most salient question in my mind.
I agree very much with what tballgame said, and would add that it is extremely important to include Gonzalez's recent statement that his shoulder is not what it was and that he does not expect to get his full power back. Paying $20+ Million / season for a power hitting first baseman is one thing, but to pay that for one with decreasing power is another.
Even with diminished power, Gonzo would be one of the best 1B in the league. 1B the past few years hasn't been the position it once was and that scarcity will drive up the value of the position's top performers even if they aren't what they were 3 years ago.
I think some of the perspective at the time of trade is lost in this piece. The Red Sox did not want to give up Gonzalez. The assumption here is that we now know Crawford is healthy. At the time of the trade Crawford was not healthy and for somebody who's game had an element of speed there was a tremendous amount of uncertainty in his future production. Crawford was struggling with Boston's environment and did not seem to have the attitude to thrive there. There was risk for the Dodgers and they seemed to have done well with Crawford. I will be curious to see if Crawford lives up to his contract.
Too early to reach a conclusion on trade but Crawford's misplays in outfield(and no error charged)and baserunning take something away from his fast start.Beckett battling injuries supposedly but I don't expect much from him as he has lost effectiveness. Bring me the head of Ned Colletti nd all will be forgiven.
As someone who watched Beckett for a long time in the ALE (and hoping he would fail) I can say that it's never quite too late to count him out. He's never been consistent and has pitched whole seasons of replacement level or just above. That doesn't mean he'll round into form, but long stretches of mediocrity are not new to him.
One thing I'm sure most fans thought when the trade was made was that losing Gonzalez was not a big deal given that there always seems to be a $20 million a year 1b available, and now the Sox can just grab the next one.Perhaps what we're seeing though is a changing landscape. Big free agents are becoming scarcer. Rizzo --ironically once a Sox prospect--is the latest to get locked in early. Another free agent that won't hit the market until well into his prime. So, given that Gonzalez has corrected himself--great AVG, great OBP, slightly declining power--was it worth it to lose him in order to shake loose of Crawford and Beckett? Given how Crawford is playing now, this question certainly needs to be re-visited, and I appreciate the analysis in this story.