The Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers pulled off an enormous trade that features Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford heading to Los Angeles. The Red Sox got a pair of high-ceiling arms in exchange as well as two useful spare parts, which, considering how much salary they just cleared, is a very strong return.
It's a bold move, considering how much major league talent they're sending to L.A., and the potential for one of Beckett and/or Crawford to bounce back after the deal, but, frankly, it was way too good for the team to pass up. It looks as if Larry Lucchino overreacted to some bad publicity but GM Ben Cherington and his group rode in to restructure this into a very sound baseball deal.
Rubby de la Rosa blew up as a prospect before blowing out entirely back in 2011, but he's back from Tommy John surgery and, by 2013, should be able to pick up where he left off when his elbow snapped. He has touched 100 mph as a starter and sits comfortably in the mid-to-upper 90s, offsetting it with an above-average changeup with good fading action in the mid-80s, and, before the surgery, could throw both pitches for strikes. His slider is hard but really short, 82-86, but it doesn't have a lot of tilt to it because he tends to get on top of the pitch, often coming out higher than he does on his fastball; his curveball, a pitch he seldom throws, is in the mid-70s, breaking down but without tight rotation.
Even an average slider would give him No. 1 or No. 2 starter potential, and I think he can get there if he can release it from a slightly lower spot, closer to where he releases the fastball. It's a huge arm in any role, and, as long as he's healthy, he should be able to start.
Allen Webster was primarily a shortstop in high school, but the Dodgers drafted him as a pitcher and he has shown two plus pitches as a minor league starter, a fastball with great downhill plane at 90-94, touching 98, and an out pitch changeup with great deception. The sink on the fastball has allowed him to generate high ground-ball rates; repeating the Southern League this year, he has allowed just one homer in 121 innings so far.
His lack of an average to above-average breaking ball remains his biggest issue -- he has a power slider and a fringy curveball, but neither is as good as the changeup -- and his fastball command hasn't come along as expected, even though he's a good athlete with a repeatable delivery. He has a wide range of possible outcomes; he could be an above-average starter if he throws more strikes and/or the breaking ball improves, and he could end up a pretty good reliever if none of that happens.
Jerry Sands doesn't profile as an every-day player for me but could have value in a part-time role. He has average-at-best bat speed with a lot of rotation, meaning he has big raw power but struggles to get to it in games because he's not making enough quality contact. He stands well off the plate, so his plate coverage away isn't good, and his recognition of off-speed stuff is poor. He's also a below-average defender in left and couldn't handle third base in a brief trial there, so first base is probably his only option. He could be a bench or platoon bat against left-handed pitching, but I don't see an average regular here.
Ivan De Jesus has potential as a utility infielder who can handle shortstop on an interim basis and had a history of getting on base before he reached Triple-A Albuquerque, but he has some drift at the plate and is short enough to the ball that he's not likely to hit for any power. When seeing him in the Arizona Fall League during his two tours of duty, I noticed a lack of energy that stood out in a league where most of the players play hard.
James Loney has hit .278 AVG/.336 OBP/.402 SLG in nearly 2,900 at-bats since the start of 2008 while playing above-average defense at first. That's not a player worth the $6 million he's earning this year, to say nothing of the raise he'll earn in arbitration if the Red Sox tender him a contract in December.
The Dodgers are taking on an enormous amount of salary here, although only Crawford's deal looks like dead money at this point; two years and $31.5 million for Beckett is an overpayment, but it's not an awful deal and is one he could come somewhat close to justifying.
The real issue for the Dodgers is that they took on Crawford's deal and whatever amount of Beckett's deal you want to call the excess or overpayment just to acquire the age 31-36 seasons of Gonzalez, who already will be paid a shade more than $21 million for each of those seasons -- and they gave up two good pitching prospects and two other minor leaguers in the process. It is beyond unlikely that the Dodgers will see sufficient return from these players to justify the quarter of a billion dollars those players will be paid across the next six seasons. If the team wins the World Series this year, does that justify the cost going forward, and the potential roster jam it'll face once everyone is healthy again?
Gonzalez was his usual self in 2011 but has fallen off in 2012, particularly in his patience and thus his OBP, along with a power outage in the first half of the season. He's been on a good run since the All-Star break, though, hitting .338/.378/.593, albeit in a small sample and with just five unintentional walks in more than 150 PAs; it's possible the Dodgers scouted him more in the last month and saw the return of his power, motivating them to try to make the deal. He's seeing more off-speed stuff early in counts this year and has become more aggressive in response, so he's seeing fewer pitches in total and has watched his walk total drop. (His OBPs in San Diego were always boosted by large intentional walk totals; he has drawn more than 60 unintentional walks in a season only once, in 2009.)
The good news for the Dodgers is that his bat speed is intact and he remains a plus-plus defender at first base, so even a pessimistic outlook would give him several years of high batting averages and home run totals even if his OBP settles in the .340-.360 range. That's a valuable player and a huge upgrade over what they've gotten from Loney, so acquiring him makes a ton of sense in the abstract.
Acquiring Gonzalez doesn't come down just to money or prospects, however; the Dodgers are taking on two bad contracts in the process. Beckett's lost season comes down to three main problems: some lost velocity, poor pitch selection and horrific pitching from the stretch. He has lost a mile and a half off his average fastball this year versus 2011, a year that was already down from his peak fastball a few years earlier, which is likely the effect of age and regular usage over the years but doesn't in and of itself have to be fatal. (It does show he's not a good candidate for a multiyear extension.)
He gives up way too many hits on his cutter, which has proved less effective than the straight changeup that was previously his worst pitch (because it looked like a BP fastball compared with his four-seamer). He's been nearly 300 points of opponents' OPS worse with men on base this year, and, although that's often just bad luck or randomness, in Beckett's case it's more because his fastball is softer from the stretch and because he relies too much on that flat cutter in those situations.
Crawford just had Tommy John surgery, and, even when healthy, probably needs a right-handed platoon partner -- which, unfortunately for the Dodgers, also can be said of Andre Ethier, meaning they will now have two corner outfielders signed for the next five years who can't hit lefties. In the era of seven- and eight-man bullpens, that's an unworkable way to build a roster and probably guarantees Ethier will get 100 or so PAs per year against southpaws that would be better given to a right-handed three-toed sloth. Little Nicky Punto serves no purpose other than providing fodder for those of us who like to extract humor from the fact that he serves no purpose.
This deal could end up looking good for both sides, better for the Dodgers in the very short term but much better for the Red Sox in the long term. Boston enters this winter with a new financial lease on life, freeing the Sox up to spend in a weak free-agent market or perhaps to take on a large contract someone else would like to move (Cliff Lee? Justin Upton?).
They're also looking at a pretty interesting group of position-player prospects racing up the system, led by Xander Bogaerts, who has improved his defense at shortstop this year and might defy earlier expectations and stay at the position. That potential for an inexpensive core should help Boston avoid a similar tangle of large contracts in the near future, just at a point when the Dodgers are facing a financial quagmire and roster crunch of their own.