Chances are you’ve already heard about the nine-player deal between the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers that’s been sending shock waves around the game, the world, and the universe as a whole. As of early this morning, the deal is completed, and Boston has officially shipped out Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto to the Dodgers for James Loney and prospects. The ramifications for both teams are enormous. The Dodgers took on all but $12 million of the players’ combined salaries through the end of their respective deals, so they’ll have an extreme spike in payroll to deal with in the coming seasons. As for the Red Sox? It’s a total fire sale, and one of the more unexpected ones I’ve ever seen.
The Red Sox just aren’t a team that one typically associates with having fire sales. They’re the Red Sox. You know, the team that won a World Series championship in both 2004 and 2007, the massive market team that annually ranks among the game’s highest payrolls. It’s not often you see a team of such stature so obviously throw in the towel. It’s not often you see big-name players like Gonzalez and Crawford, both of whom signed long-term deals with the franchise not even two years ago, sent packing so quickly.
For what it’s worth, even in the midst of the nightmare season Boston has had, they’re not even at all a bad baseball team. They play in the game’s toughest division, for one thing, so it’s difficult to truly assess their record, but you can look at their expected record based on run differential for a start: 66-60, the mirror opposite of where they currently stand. Such a record would have put them just 2.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot, tied with the Angels. You can also consider that they boasted one of the game’s best offenses, a unit that was second in the AL in runs scored (615) and fifth in OPS (.759). The pitching has certainly struggled at times, but even that hasn’t been all bad — cumulatively, Boston pitchers have accrued 12.2 WAR this season according to FanGraphs, a figure that places them at 17th among all 30 teams; nothing to be thrilled about, sure, but middle of the pack is pretty acceptable when you play in a tough division and have a good offense to boot.
Despite all the turmoil, all the in-house bickering, all the apparently chemistry issues, this is a team that has (to date) posted a plus-28 run differential in a very competitive division while also drawing over 2.5 million fans to home games this season, the fifth best support in the American League. This could easily have been a much different season in Boston, and even though so much went wrong, it’s not like the team was staggering and ready for an all out franchise collapse.
Regardless, the front office felt that now was the right time to pull the plug and go a new direction. The identity of the Red Sox will be significantly altered from this point, and keep in mind a franchise cornerstone has already been dealt earlier this season (Kevin Youkilis), even if he was a pending free agent anyway. With the recent payroll purge, this is now a team that currently projects to have just four eight-figure contracts to pay out in 2013: John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Dustin Pedroia. Obviously there are arbitration deals to work out and other financial developments that could come into play before that point, but next year’s reduced payroll should still represent a huge change for the franchise.
As difficult as it may have been to see this shift in focus coming prior to the season, it’s very obvious as to where the organization is now headed. A farm system that was ranked by pretty much every minor league authority as being at or near the median point just got a solid boost, and Boston will now wait patiently for their prospects to graduate to the major leagues. The franchise will attempt to build the next great Red Sox team from within rather than import established stars from other organizations at premium prices. This philosophical change is one I always appreciate, considering it’s a far more logical approach to take, so I’m not faulting them for making this deal (aside from the part where they acquired James Loney); I’m just extremely surprised by it.
Like I stated in the introduction paragraph, it’s just not often you see the Boston Red Sox elect to rebuild.