- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
SAN FRANCISCO -- Within the sport, the criticism of the Dodgers' trade with the Boston Red Sox is very strong. It's as if this is Major League Baseball's version of the infamous Herschel Walker deal, which transformed the Dallas Cowboys franchise into a powerhouse.
A Los Angeles Dodgers official listened Saturday as that negative appraisal of his team's trade was relayed, a few hours before Adrian Gonzalez made his explosive debut for L.A. with a three-run homer on his first swing.
"Look, it's hard to get really good players like these, and sometimes you have to stretch," the official said. "And one thing that I think is important to remember is that while we are doing this, we are being as aggressive in [rebuilding] the farm system."
From the Dodgers' perspective, this deal buys time. Frank McCourt cut back on player development dramatically, turning the Dodgers into a non-player in the international market, so as they discussed trades and considered options this summer, they really had no internal options.
Instead, the Dodgers used the resource they have right now -- money -- as they move to alter the brand and reinvigorate the fan base. They spent dollars to get Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton, and now they've taken on many more dollars in order to get the player they have coveted all summer -- Gonzalez, an All-Star first baseman and Mexican-American who they believe could be a major draw in their market. In order to get him, they also agreed to take on the contracts of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, and all of these moves make them a contender to win the World Series in 2012.
The big picture? Well, they expect that in a few years, their ongoing investment in their farm system will begin to pay off.
And the Dodgers' owners' perspective on this massive deal is very much similar to their perspective when they made their $2 billion acquisition of the team, a business deal that was also strongly criticized.
In order to own a Picasso, you must spend, because there is value to the acquisition beyond the market price. Apparently, the Dodgers' owners place a value on a World Series contender that goes beyond what others are willing to pay for it.
I emailed a number of baseball evaluators for their appraisals of this deal, and these are their responses:
AL executive: "Boston would have done well just to unload the contracts and wipe the slate clean or just trade Adrian for the prospects. Somehow, it managed to move the contracts and get the prospects. Is it possible for the general manager of a team that's below .500 [Ben Cherington] to win executive of the year?"
NL executive: "Great deal for Boston. They would have done the deal with no talent coming back. To get two good young arms is incredible. ... Really allows them to restart something that was broken. As good as it is for Boston, it is FAR WORSE for LA. Why on earth would they take back Crawford? How did they give up talent and not get $50 million back? The deal should have been Gonzo and Beckett for that talent. Crawford's inclusion is the part that makes it such a dramatic overpay for LA. They took 90+ million over 5 years for a player who has had two horrific seasons in a row and just had TJ..., Wow!"
AL executive: "I wish we had been lucky enough to have some team take on our mistake contracts [like the Red Sox have]."
AL evaluator: "Short term winner -- the Dodgers. Long-term and overall big winners are the Red Sox, because they have money to replace what they gave up along with two pitching prospects. They might have changed some culture around the team, along with dumping bad money. They will have a lot of pressure from the fans to spend money this winter and they have to be careful not to put themselves back in the same spot by overpaying for something that isn't elite talent. This is a big gamble for the Dodgers but does send a message. Now hopefully the Red Sox bogus sell-out streak will end for good."
AL official: "A no-brainer for the Red Sox. Crawford was nearly a sunk cost who was not the same guy, not even on defense. He is a below-average on-base percentage guy -- you could make a case that Boston was a better team with [Daniel] Nava in left field. Moving Beckett is so much more than saving money. And Adrian's severely declining walk rate was a major concern IMO (17% to 6% in four years, declining every year). With the power arms the Red Sox landed, I think this is a lot more than just payroll flexibility -- it's beyond their wildest dreams in terms of what they can save. Subtract two albatross contracts and stop crossing your fingers hoping that these guys will return to form in their 30's while adding young power arms at the same time.
"I don't see how [James] Loney isn't a non-tender; he is what he is, which is a guy who can play first base and make less next year on a one-year deal. The game is changing, it's becoming a game of young athletes, and the Red Sox just subtracted three guys who aren't necessarily young or very athletic."
High-ranking NL executive: "Wow. It's hard to believe this trade. I'm trying to remember a similar deal over last 20 years. The amount of money the Dodgers have taken on over the last five weeks. The Red Sox unloaded all of their issues in one deal, and we liked the players they got back -- and the dodgers are now a west coast super power!"
NL evaluator: "I love this deal for the Red Sox. Boston gets off of some really bad money and gets a fresh start with a new front office. Boston is going to spend money because they are Boston, but now the contracts will be those of Ben Cherington rather than Theo Epstein, who has more or less escaped blame for a litany of bad contracts. It was a move about changing the culture, but also a big break from the Epstein era.
"It's a mixed bag for the Dodgers. Adrian Gonzalez is a huge upgrade over James Loney in every facet of the game. Beckett and Crawford are both shells of the players they once were and are aging with little grace. Beckett should be usable moving from a hitter's park in the AL East to a pitcher's park in the NL West, but he doesn't have the same stuff or ratios as AJ Burnett did and I wouldn't expect a similar resurgence. Crawford is a wild card -- speed players don't age well and he's had a lot of injuries -- and his contract is among the worst in the game if not the worst, so it shows you how badly [L.A.] wanted Gonzalez (and, to a lesser degree, Beckett)."
AL evaluator: "Wow. Epic baseball trade on many levels. Ben Cherington just had his "Godfather" moment. He stunningly announced that he's unequivocally in charge to Red Sox Nation. This is reminiscent of the Godfather scene where Michael Corleone vanquished all Family Business in one broad stroke. Cherington did a remarkable job in extracting high end arms in Alan Webster and Rubby De La Rosa. Along with powerful Jerry Sands and useful Ivan DeJesus, Loney was necessary in this deal like a National Basketball Association transaction. He'll get a chance to improve his position going forward in lieu of possible free agency.
"This trade was transcendent on so many levels. Adrian Gonzalez is a West Coast-born slugger with a beautiful stroke, vast power, and poetic glove. Plus he's a Mexican-American with matinee looks in the prime of his career, and he is perfect for the Los Angeles market going forward. He brings star power to their colossal TV contract and region. For the Dodgers to acquire such a perfect fit for Los Angeles going forward, they had to acquiesce to the Red Sox' demands. In the process they got a player in Carl Crawford that simply was not built for the Boston pressure cooker. ... Crawford should thrive in Los Angeles and remind everyone in baseball what he can be, when healthy and not scrutinized everyday at Dunkin Donuts in Worcester. Josh Beckett doesn't have to face the DH or the power packed lineups of the AL East. Plus for the most part, besides Arizona, the ballparks in the NL West are spacious. That bodes well for his stuff going forward. Plus, he's proven if he gets to the finish line, he can be a stabilizer in October.
"From the Dodgers' perspective, they slid all of their chips in and announced that Chavez Ravine is a prime destination. Coupled with the new ownership in place, they proclaimed anything is possible. To make this happen they had to work in conjunction with the Red Sox request -- otherwise the Red Sox would have just held onto Adrian Gonzalez. Which if you look at what Prince Fielder and Mark Teixeira signed for, Adrian's contract is reasonable."
NL executive: "I think the Dodgers took on a huge risk -- $260 million for one very good player and two question marks. And they gave up good prospects."
From the Elias Sports Bureau: Gonzalez is the fifth Dodger to homer in his first at-bat with the team in the past 25 years. Others: Juan Rivera (2011), Ronnie Belliard (2009), Garey Ingram (1994), Jose Offerman (1990).
Andre Ethier, shifted to No. 6 in the Dodgers' lineup, went 4-for-4 on Saturday.
From Elias: Ethier set a Dodgers record for most consecutive plate appearances with a hit.
Most consecutive PAs with hit (since Dodgers moved to L.A. in 1958)
Ethier: 10 (2012)
Ron Cey: 9 (1977)
Manny Ramirez: 8 (2008)
Rafael Furcal: 8 (2007)
Willie Davis: 8 (1966)
Norm Larker: 8 (1960)
T.J. Simers writes that while the Dodgers may have fattened their roster, the fan experience still leaves something to be desired. Stan Kasten about the Dodgers' spending limit: "I still haven't found it yet."
Gonzalez has already endeared himself to fans, writes Mark Saxon.
With this trade, the Red Sox may reclaim their soul, writes Christopher Gasper.
• The reaction in the Giants' clubhouse to the Dodgers-Red Sox trade was very muted -- almost like a reaction to a thunderstorm on Jupiter. Maybe this is because the San Francisco Giants just finished a sweep of the Dodgers earlier in the week, or maybe because San Francisco still has a stronger rotation. "It still all comes down to who pitches better," said one member of the organization.
A scout liked what he saw in Clemens.
Meanwhile, the Astros lost.
• Ozzie Guillen said something that might draw some scrutiny from the folks he works for.
I'd respectfully disagree. Trout is having one of the greatest seasons of all time, and he has separated himself as the front-runner. WAR is not the perfect statistical measure of overall value -- no such statistic exists -- but look how far Trout is ahead of other MLB players.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats and Information
1: hit allowed by Roger Clemens in 3 1/3 innings for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League.
2: inside-the-park home runs by the Diamondbacks this season, matching the Reds for the most in MLB.
4: hits for the Indians in a 3-1 win against the Yankees; it marked the Indians' fewest hits in a win against the Yankees since April 25, 1987.
37: pitches thrown by Clemens in his first pro action since 2007.
Moves, deals and decisions
4. The Dodgers-Red Sox trade underscores the Mets' mess, writes Joel Sherman.
Dings and dents
NL East notes
NL Central notes
NL West notes
AL West notes
• The Mariners squandered an early lead.
• The Angels' bullpen faltered, and they lost even more ground in the standings.
AL Central notes
• The Royals pulled out a crazy win.
AL East notes
• The Pirates misfired on their priorities the other day, Dejan Kovacevic writes.
• Barry Larkin's number was retired.
• Prospect Shelby Miller has been humbled.
• Scully will be back next season.
And today will be better than yesterday.