August 26, 2012
There's only one thing to ask about what Larry Lucchino and the Red Sox front office have done to Theo Epstein's legacy in Boston:
Does he have to give back the two World Series rings?
Have you ever seen an airplane drop down low from the clouds and spray chemicals on a field? That's essentially what the Red Sox have done with the epic salary dump they swung this weekend, handing Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers for soon-to-be free agent first baseman James Loney and four prospects (Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Ivan DeJesus and Jerry Sands).
They de-Theoed the franchise.
Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe called the nine-player trade the biggest deal for the Red Sox since they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. He's probably right, although he overlooks a few others of significance — like the signing of free agents Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Curt Schilling.
Because those moves worked out well, institutional memory of them doesn't last so long. An amazing thing about the Red Sox experience is that Boston baseball fans waited 86 years to win a World Series, won another three years later and in another five years are back to being as bitter as they were when the ball went through Bill Buckner's legs.
Pretty amazing how quickly good times are taken for granted, if not all but forgotten.
With this move and the June trade of Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox, the Red Sox's young front office and credit-seeking ownership group is shredding the team Epstein left behind when he took Chairman Tom Ricketts' offer of a five-year, $17.5 million contract to build the Cubs on the Red Sox model. The Dodgers, who have a vault full of cash thanks to the Chicago-based Guggenheim Baseball Group, were happy to restock their shelves with veterans who have gone to 11 All-Star Games and World Series with four different teams.
Add Gonzalez, Beckett, Crawford and Nick Punto from the Red Sox to Hanley Ramirez (from the Marlins in July) and Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton (from the Phillies in separate deals) and an Opening Day roster that was built around reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and MVP candidate Matt Kemp, not to mention Andre Ethier (who signed an $85 million contract in June) and … well, Vin Scully should be working in October.
But the great thing about baseball is there is no guarantee that with all their muscle the Dodgers are going to overtake the Giants in the National League West or the Braves and Cardinals in the wild-card race. You can't buy a championship, and maybe Mark Walter and the Guggenheim guys will have to learn the hard way — sort of like Red Sox owner John Henry did when he facilitated Epstein's spending on free agents.
With this trade, the Red Sox are clearing about $260 million in salary off their books. That's still a lot of money, isn't it? And you wonder if the Dodgers will regret getting a combined 13 guaranteed years of Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett — all of whom are dealing with injuries or decline. The names are sexy, but between them they average 31 years and have been traded seven times.
They are what Epstein might call post-prime players. He was counting on Gonzalez and Crawford to have a huge impact in 2011 and '12 when he acquired them two years ago, and the Dodgers are investing similar hope — and just as much money — in older players.
Epstein has acknowledged he made mistakes in his last years in Boston, mostly in overinvesting in free agents. He says he will be smarter when it is time to start spending in Chicago — more than likely after 2014, not '13.
Lucchino and the Red Sox owners want to show him they're smarter than he is. We'll see.
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