The Dodgers struggled mightily since their blockbuster nine-player trade with the Boston Red Sox, the one that brought them Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett, among others. But just because the team didn't make the playoffs this year doesn't mean the trade shouldn't have been made.
On Aug. 25, the Dodgers acquired Gonzalez, Beckett, utility man Nick Punto, and an injured Carl Crawford and cash from the Boston Red Sox for first baseman James Loney, infielder Ivan De Jesus, pitcher Allen Webster, and two players to be named later (widely reported to be pitcher Rubby De La Rosa and outfielder Jerry Sands). It was a huge deal for the Dodgers that saw them absorb roughly $260 million in salary commitments.
But the Dodgers were just 18-18 since making the trade, and that included a hot streak that came too late at the end of the season. The Dodgers finished two games behind the Cardinals for the second wild card spot in the National League.
Beckett has been fine in his short time in Los Angeles. He was 2-3 in seven starts as a Dodger with a 2.93 ERA, 10 unintentional walks and 38 strikeouts in 43 innings. He fit in quite nicely to a starting rotation that lost Chad Billingsley for the year just one day before making the trade. It should be noted that the trade was negotiated before Billingsley got hurt, but finalized after his injury, a fortunate bit of timing. As general manager Ned Colletti said on the day of the trade, "You can't look at our rotation and tell me we don't need Josh Beckett."
But Gonzalez simply didn't hit after joining the Dodgers, at least until his final two weeks. He hit .297/.344/.441 in 36 games with Los Angeles, though he ended the year on a 15-game hitting streak. That streak helped Gonzalez improve his Dodger numbers so they didn't look eerily close to the .245/.291/.360 provided by James Loney and Juan Rivera as first basemen this season. Gonzalez went 25 full games and 115 plate appearances without a home run until hitting a pair of long balls on Sunday in Sept. 23.
Gonzalez was part of a general offensive malaise by pretty much the whole team over the last month. Shane Victorino was terrible since joining the Dodgers, Hanley Ramirez went his final 108 plate appearances of the season without a home run, and Matt Kemp was not himself after injuring his left shoulder and right knee while crashing into the center field wall at Coors Field on Aug. 28. Kemp will have shoulder surgery on Friday.
As a result, the Dodgers have averaged just 3.56 runs per game since the trade, hardly a recipe for success. That included a hot streak over the final eight games that saw the Dodgers outscore their opponents 45-14 while winning seven of their final eight games.
But the trade wasn't made for just 2012. Gonzalez is signed for six more years and $127 million. The Dodgers have coveted Gonzalez for years, and nearly traded for him in 2009 when he was in San Diego ("We thought we had him," manager Don Mattingly said.). Now the Dodgers have their first baseman for the next six years, one who has averaged .297/.375/.511 and 29 home runs over the last seven years. With Josh Hamilton the only true impact bat on the pending free agent market, a player who has played 150 games once in his career, it's hard to blame the Dodgers for choosing the age 31-36 years of the usually steady Gonzalez to the age 32-37 years, or longer, of Hamilton.
The wild card in the trade, albeit an expensive one, for the Dodgers is Crawford, who still has $102.5 million and five years left on his contract, and is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Crawford was a shell of his former self since joining the Red Sox, hitting just .260/.292/.419 in his two years in Boston, but the Dodgers are banking on a rebound from the former All-Star.
"There are a lot of expectations, that's for sure. It's good to have these [eight] games as a basis of how we can play," said Clayton Kershaw after Wednesday's finale. "That's how we should play for 162. We have pretty much all the starters back next year, so it should be pretty interesting."
Crawford is signed through 2017, as is Andre Ethier. Gonzalez is signed through 2018. Kemp is signed through 2019. Both Hanley Ramirez, acquired from the Miami Marlins on July 25, and Beckett are signed through 2014. The team will likely surpass the competitive balance tax threshhold of $178 million next season, but that discussion was only an afterthought on the day of the trade. Asked if the Dodgers had a payroll ceiling, Dodgers chariman Mark Walter said on Aug. 25, "Somewhere, I suppose."
If the Dodgers' new ownership group is simply willing to buy their way out of any problem, it's hard to be concerned about the long-term budget. Any evaluation of the deal then comes down to one simple question: did it make the Dodgers better?
I think the trade did improve the club, but it just didn't work out this season. But there are more seasons to collect dividends from the deal.