Well that was unexpected.
On Friday afternoon, I hopped on a bus from my seaside studio apartment in New Bedford for Boston, typically a 90-minute journey thanks to rush-hour traffic. As usual, I had my headphones (and Sandinista! by The Clash) and a book (For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway), and just as the bus was pulling out of the station I pulled out my phone to see what the internet was up to.
And my side of the internet was quite engaged in the possibility of a baseball trade that seemed to be pulled from a nutjob radio caller’s brain: Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and, for reasons that will always be funny, Nick Punto were on their way to Los Angeles for first baseman James Loney and four minor leaguers.
Adrian Gonzalez, their All-Star first baseman, is in the first season of a seven-year, $154 million contract. Carl Crawford signed a seven-year, $142 million contract before 2011. Josh Beckett has two years remaining on his four-year, $68 million extension signed during the 2010 season. And Nick Punto has another year left. Good ol’ Nick Punto.
In terms of finances alone, the trade is tremendous, and reports are that the Dodgers are paying just about all of it. Typically, the Red Sox have taken a hit and paid players to leave in recent deals, including Kevin Youkilis earlier this year. To see the Dodgers willing to take on this much money and give up young players is as close to shocking as baseball can offer.
But for the Red Sox, even with the loss of Gonzalez, a tremendous talent who, as far as this writer can see, was a team player and a positive force, it’s a signal that the past three seasons of spending to spend and playing footsie with the dumbest part of the fan base is over. This willingness to admit that this season is lost and that, going forward, the status quo won’t be tolerated is new for the team in the Larry Lucchino era.
It’s gutsy, too, and it’s hard not to think that new general manager Ben Cherington lobbied for a complete overhaul, citing that working for the headlines was not going to work. Fans might care about free agents in November, but wins are all that matter in the summer. That ownership approved this is nothing short of tremendous.
There is nothing especially courageous about opening up a checkbook and spending money until the problems go away. It’s a move of position rather than talent or cunning, and it’s usually the easy, headline-friendly way out. The gutsy move is to admit a mistake and display willingness to take the hit and move on.
Adrian Gonzalez is going to have a great six years in Los Angeles, not far from where he grew up in San Diego. He’ll face a more forgiving fan base and a media entourage slightly less in love with itself. Carl Crawford, too, gets a chance to start from scratch and resume his once-amazing career. Josh Beckett was facing a toxic situation in New England, and he too can now just pitch and block out the nonsense.
I’m sure Nick Punto will be happy, too.
For Boston, it’s their time of reckoning. They have a number of young players who are major-league ready — Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway, Ryan Kalish, Pedro Ciriaco, Jose Iglesias, Daniel Nava, on and on and on. They have an opportunity to rebuilding their pitching staff, now lead by Clay Buccholz and counting on Jon Lester to recover. After this season, Loney, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Mike Aviles will likely be gone. David Ortiz is up for a new contract, too. This is a new beginning.
The hope here, is that the Red Sox avoid the panic free agent moves in the future, and avoid trying to play catch-up with the Yankees. As the Tampa Bay Rays and, now, the Baltimore Orioles have shown, spending isn’t necessary to compete.
But smart baseball moves are, and on the first day of the new era, this seems to be the smartest baseball move this club has made in ages.