By Joe Lemire
August 27, 2012

Five Cuts from a wild summer weekend ...

1. Another Boston-L.A. story -- The Red Sox trading Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers at the 2008 trade deadline was a big surprise; dealing Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett for prospects and salary relief in a nine-player waiver trade this weekend is nothing less than total astonishment for its size and precedent.

The Ramirez deal seemed to help both teams: he batted .396 with a 1.232 OPS and 17 homers in 53 games, as L.A. won 30 games and its division; Boston, on the other hand, purged a clubhouse distraction and replaced him with Jason Bay, who hit well enough (.297 BA, .897 OPS, 9 HR) to help the Sox reach Game 7 of that year's ALCS. That three-way trade was reviewable for Boston and Los Angeles three months after it was transacted.

This weekend's trade, however, is more than a swap of players and debts. It's an extreme way of doing business that could have reverberations on these franchises and the sport for years, if not a decade or two, to come.

Consider: Only 19 players have ever signed multi-year contracts with an average annual value of at least $20 million, and only four of them have ever been traded while in the midst of such a contract; two of those four, Crawford and Gonzalez, are in this deal. (Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez are the other two.)

When all the accounting is done, the Red Sox will have cleared roughly $260 million in salary obligations through 2018 by having moved its three highest-paid players, essentially borrowing a Nintendo reset button for their roster building. Eliminating a quarter-billion dollars of IOUs will irrevocably alter the course of a franchise, both on the field and in the books.

Boston general manager Ben Cherington stressed a "disciplined" approach in rebuilding the franchise, according to the Boston Globe, which likely means forthcoming free agents Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke probably aren't in the cards and trades for younger, up-and-coming players are more likely. They'll also re-emphasize building from within, and this trade added a pair of pitching prospects, right-handers Rubby De la Rosa and Allen Webster.

It's a proverbial one step back in order to take two steps forward.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, have jumped a step or two forward and hope to avoid stepping back.

Los Angeles, under new ownership since the start of the year, has worked swiftly to rebuild a sinking franchise by making a series of trades -- none approaching the scope of this one -- in which it assumed large contracts in order to get talent. The Dodgers acquired Hanley Ramirez primarily because they were willing to assume the remainder of his big contract.

In taking on Beckett, Crawford and Gonzalez, the Dodgers had to trade two prospects and pay huge contracts, but players who -- if invigorated by a change of scenery, proper recuperation or both -- could be A-list talent. Obviously this deal could backfire in a big way if those three players don't perform to their capabilities, but the Dodgers are in a better place to handle that risk, given their higher place in the standings, their efforts to rejuvenate a fan base alienated by the previous owner and their apparent willingness to tap their cash reserves. They have about $193 million already committed in 2013, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.

With clubs continuing to place an increasing premium on their prospects and with a stiffer competitive-balance tax in effect this year (a.k.a. the luxury tax), making monetary gambles by taking on big contracts may become a more popular method of getting big talent than bundling large numbers of minor leaguers.

With presumed offseason targets of the next two years such as Cole Hamels and Matt Cain all off the board, it makes perfect sense for the Dodgers to add franchise-changing stars via trades, even though it means the assumption of overpriced contracts. Won't the reduced supply of star-caliber talented players this offseason lead to similarly expensive deals? Now Los Angeles can make a run this year (at the cost of two prospects) while also ensuring it doesn't miss adding bold-faced names in the open market.

After all, given the sale price of the franchise ($2.15 billion) and the prospect of a record-setting local television deal to be signed this winter (unknown but more than the reportedly $3 billion for 20 years the neighboring Angels received), the Dodgers are clearly not lacking for cash. And this is just a guess, but maybe such an influx of star wattage will generate an even better TV contract.

It'll be a while before we can pass a verdict, but this trade may be an important step toward continuing the Dodgers' rapid ascent and restoring the Red Sox to their heights of last decade.

2. Hollywood facelift -- While the ramifications of the trade will persist for years, there's also the practical reality that the Dodgers are currently two games back of the Giants in the division and 1½ games back of the Cardinals in the wild-card standings, but only on Sunday, with left fielder Shane Victorino back in the lineup after a bout with back tightness, did Los Angeles got a taste of their new-look lineup.

The Dodgers' starting lineup featured five position players -- including all four infielders -- who were not on the team in April. Victorino in left, Punto at second, Gonzalez at first and Hanley Ramirez at short were all acquired via trade, while third baseman Luis Cruz began the year in Triple A. Two of their five starting pitchers, Beckett and Joe Blanton, were also added in midseason trades.

While Punto was merely making a spot start and is not an upgrade over incumbent Mark Ellis, the other four position players represented massive improvements over the Opening Day starters at those positions. Left fielder Juan Rivera and third baseman Juan Uribe are now bench players, while shortstop Dee Gordon is on the disabled list and first baseman James Loney was dealt to Boston.

The average increase in OPS for the four lineup spots is .163, which, for perspective's sake, is approximately the difference in OPS between the Yankees' Robinson Cano and the Royals' Mike Moustakas so far this year.

3. White-Knuckle White Sox -- Chicago swept Seattle this weekend despite trailing in the sixth inning or later in each game. The White Sox were down 3-2 in the seventh on Sunday before catcher Tyler Flowers hit a two-run homer to win before the game was called early due to rain; on Saturday they trailed 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth before winning 5-4; and on Friday they allowed six runs in the top of the ninth to fall behind 8-7, only to rally in the bottom of the ninth for the 9-8 win.

Such close-shave heroics are growing commonplace for the ChiSox, who have won six straight games with the last four by one run each. On the season they are 22-15 in one-run games and are defying the odds with comebacks after trailing at nearly every point in the game.

Consider the table below, which compares the winning percentages in 2012 of all major league teams on the left when trailing entering each inning against the White Sox' percentages at the same junctures.

4. An everyday Holliday in St. Louis -- Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday continues to be the best player rarely mentioned in "best player" conversations. With a four-hit game on Sunday that included a double, triple and four RBIs, Holliday propelled St. Louis to a series win over the division-leading Reds and his club's fifth victory in its last six games, moving the Redbirds into position for the second wild card with a 1½-game lead over the Dodgers.

During that hot stretch Holliday has a hit in all six games and multiple hits in four of them, going 12-for-27 (.444) and has driven in eight runs, giving him a NL-leading 89 for the season.

Few hitters have been as consistently impressive as Holliday. The 2012 season is his seventh straight in which he has an OPS+ -- on-base percentage plus slugging, adjusted for league and ballpark -- of at least 135, which means he's been at least 35 percent better than the average player each season. Only one other player in the majors has as many consecutive seasons of a 135 OPS+, and that's Holliday's former teammate for three years, Albert Pujols, which may help explain why Holliday doesn't get more attention.

Here are Holliday's stats and ranks in key offensive categories in the last seven years.

5. One-year turnarounds -- The Orioles beat the Blue Jays Friday and Saturday before being rained out on Sunday, but those two wins gave Baltimore 69 wins in 2012 -- already matching its 2011 win total with 36 games left to play. With a .548 winning percentage thus far, the O's are on track to win 89 games this season and traded for starter Joe Saunders to help down the stretch.

Plenty of ink and bytes have already been dedicated to the remarkable improvements of several teams this year, but the turnarounds are so emphatic that four other teams have nearly joined the Orioles by matching last year's number of victories. Here are the five teams within five wins of their total from 2011. (One commonality among four of these five teams: improved bullpens.)

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