Only one team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball's bailout kings, could have rescued the Boston Red Sox from the abyss, where an unlikeable team saddled by bad contracts and bad attitudes was staring at only the beginning of an ugly decline. But it took an extraordinary set of events to save the Sox: the divorce and subsequent fall of Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, the regional sports network bidding war raging in Southern California, the honeymoon ownership of the Dodgers by Guggenheim Baseball, the nerve-rattling sweep at the hands of the rival Giants last week and especially the luck that Adrian Gonzalez would pass unclaimed by 16 teams through waivers, allowing the Dodgers to win the waiver claim.
Gonzalez was such the white whale for the Dodgers -- they had tried hard to obtain him throughout the season -- that they didn't blink when the Red Sox asked them to pick up their recycling bin, too -- the one with Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford, owners of contracts thought to be immovable.
In the business of baseball you don't get out of bad contracts often. And when you do, you either compromise the talent you get back or you eat a ton of money. The Red Sox pulled off the trick of dumping contracts without having to do either, thanks to the Dodgers' giddy need for relevance and Gonzalez. They are spending money as if they hit the lottery -- with the payment to come with their new RSN deal that figures to be worth billions.
The Red Sox, who never wanted to hear former general manager Theo Epstein even speak the word "bridge," succeeded in being lousy and unlikeable enough to pull off the first retrenching of the John Henry ownership era. And the Dodgers, as clubs with money and new owners tend to do, cribbed from the very plan that helped put Boston into this mess, convinced it will work wonders for them. Somehow it made perfect sense for both teams: a perfect storm in Los Angeles, a perfect sturm und drang in Boston.
It was one moment in time, the crosshairs of two mammoth franchises intersecting, which only goes to show how quickly the baseball world turns over these days. A year ago this week the Red Sox were a model franchise, owning the best record in the league, with Epstein and manager Terry Francona holding a firm grip, Gonzalez putting up MVP numbers and Beckett contending for the ERA crown. The Dodgers? They were in bankruptcy, with McCourt keeping the team operational only because of a loan from MLB.
Twelve months later they are transformed. Both teams are better off because of this deal. There are no guarantees how it turns out. The Red Sox will live with the flirty promise of prospects and the Dodgers with the snake oil pitch of "change of scenery" for underperforming veterans. But the deal at least provides a better plan -- a better identity -- on which to proceed than what was in place in both cases.
Both teams can be considered (for now) as winners from this deal. Here's the rest of the scorecard from one of the most impactful in-season deals ever:
Adrian Gonzalez. Not only is he out of the Boston quagmire, he is an instant legend in Los Angeles -- a Mexican-American star for the Dodgers on the lines of Fernando Valenzuela -- and gets to hit between two righthanded boppers, Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez.
Ben Cherington. The Boston GM pulled off a solid baseball trade under duress, snatching the two best pitching prospects from the Dodger system, Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Watson. De la Rosa has been clocked as high as 99 mph and projects as a top of the rotation starter or closer. Watson is a rotation fixture with a hard, heavy sinker the recalls Kevin Brown in his prime. Cherington's greatest trick may have been getting the Dodgers to take on all of the money in the deal but for $12 million -- as if he would have said no if the Dodgers required $50 million to take Carl Crawford off his hands?
Ned Colletti. After years under the Frank McCourt regime of being held to payroll-neutral deals and virtually no money for international signings, the Dodgers GM knows what it's like to be Brian Cashman, his counterpart with the Yankees: Money is not an obstacle to acquiring talent. And the deals he gave Kemp and Andre Ethier look even better now.
New York Yankees. It was hard enough to imagine the Yankees not making the postseason in a format with two wild cards. Now take the Red Sox out of play for a division title in 2013 and, most likely, 2014 and the road to October just got a little smoother for New York.
Toronto Blue Jays. The Red Sox would love to bring back John Farrell to manage their team. Toronto, off an injury-plagued season of its own, is in position to consider trading Farrell for a valuable piece in Boston's loaded farm system. If Toronto insists Farrell isn't going anywhere, the Red Sox can look toward Torey Lovullo or -- to borrow from the Robin Ventura and Mike Matheny hires in Chicago and St. Louis, respectively, in which no experience is necessary -- Brad Ausmus.
Justin Upton. The Red Sox have the need and farm system to pull off a trade for a young, centerpiece player -- an avenue that makes more sense than traveling back down the highway of overpaying for the declines of veteran free agents (John Lackey, Carl Crawford, etc.) If Upton isn't the exact guy, he at least is the perfect profile.
Red Sox fans. You can follow your team once again. Boston may have to accept another non-playoff season next year, but the 2014 club should be a contender that begins another window of competitive baseball. The club could have Jackie Bradley Jr. replacing the departed Jacoby Ellsbury (2013 free agent) in centerfield, Xavier Bogaerts at shortstop, Will Middlebrooks at third base, Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate and a rotation with de la Rosa, Webster, Matt Barnes, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester.
Bobby Valentine. Will the Red Sox bring back their manager? If they do it would be a sign that they picked a side -- the manager over the players -- when in truth the collapse of one of the most unlikeable Boston teams in recent memory was a true team effort. Valentine may be a good baseball man, but he never succeeded in his mandate to change the narrative from the ugliness of last September. Players didn't buy into what he was selling and the coaching staff never coalesced around him, while the information, demands and speed of the modern game often tripped up a man who had not been in a major league dugout in 10 years. His saving crutch might be the injuries that beset his team, but if the Red Sox truly are beginning another era the slate will not be entirely clean with the same manager.
Arizona Diamondbacks. Nice little team. Even made the playoffs last year. They carry a $75 million payroll in which Jason Kubel ($7.5 million) is their highest paid player. It was bad enough when the Giants parlayed their 2010 championship into the kind of riches that allowed them to bump their payroll from $96 million to $131 million. But now the Diamondbacks also have to deal with the Dodgers, the Yankees of the West Coast, who already have $192 million worth of salaries on the books next year. Arizona is getting priced right out of the NL West neighborhood.
Philadelphia Phillies. They had a chance to send Cliff Lee to the Dodgers once Los Angeles claimed Lee. The Phillies decided to sit tight and let this team continue to age dangerously. Lee, who turns 34 next season, is 45-37 with a 3.09 ERA since 2009 -- ranking him 32nd in wins in that time. Philadelphia will follow Boston as the next team to see its window slam shut. The difference is that the Phillies won't have the Dodgers available to eat their mistakes.
Josh Hamilton. Take the Dodgers off the list of suitors for the potential free agent, thanks to a Los Angeles outfield of Crawford, Kemp and Andre Ethier that will average $59 million per year for the next five years. Hamilton still will find a robust market -- Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder did just fine last winter, thank you, without the Yankees and Red Sox in play -- but Los Angeles has such crazy spending money right now that it helps to have them in the game even on a rumored basis.
Melky Cabrera. You knew he was a loser already, but his choice to use synthetic testosterone looks particularly harmful to the Giants now that the Dodgers have upgraded -- and because Alfonso Soriano turned down a potential trade from the Cubs to replace him and because Hunter Pence, the outfield bat acquired from the Phillies, is hitting .206 since July 5.