Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
What were the Dodgers' immediate expectations for the big trade with the Red Sox?
The title is a bit inflammatory, so let me defuse it right away: No, probably not. While the Dodgers haven't done especially well since their friendly takeover of the Red Sox, they still have a chance at the playoffs. A pretty solid chance, actually. They're just a game back of the Cardinals for the second Wild Card entering Monday.
But I couldn't work up a title that asked the question I really wanted to ask. Something like, "How much of the Dodgers' willingness to absorb the Adrian Gonzalez/Josh Beckett/Carl Crawford contracts was based on a belief that the trade would put them into the playoffs this year?" That would be an awkward headline to end all awkward headlines, so I went with the one about regret. Also, it makes for good trolling.
I'm fairly certain the Dodgers' thought process went something like this: With Cole Hamels off the market, and with Josh Hamilton possibly not being the right fit (or not being excited about playing in Los Angeles), the only way to get a superstar was to trade for him. Except you can't just walk into a store and get superstars in bulk, so when the opportunity came up to trade for Gonzalez, they decided that was their big move.
Heck, if Gonzalez were a free agent, he might have squeezed out an Albert Pujols-type contract from a new ownership group that was desperate to prove they were willing to spend. This way, they're spending the same money, but they get a free Carl Crawford out of the deal. Relatively speaking. Maybe that's an oversimplification, but I'd wager that's close to what the Dodgers were thinking on Aug. 25, and it isn't much different from what they would think on Sept. 17.
But the Dodgers are in a tough spot right now. They have a brutal road trip through Washington and Cincinnati coming up, and they might have lost Clayton Kershaw for the season, just a couple weeks after losing Chad Billingsley for the season. That's more talent going out than the Dodgers brought in this season. Unless the Dodgers expect Joe Blanton and Josh Beckett to provide a reasonable facsimile of the two fallen starters, that one-game deficit probably feels like four or five games.
This brings that question about regret up there, because I wonder if there was some naiveté worked into the risk/reward calculus of the trade. The best way to explain it is to use a quote from the Economist article about the trade:
By adding so much talent, they have transformed themselves from a longshot for the post-season to a near shoo-in. For a team in America’s second-biggest media market, a playoff appearance in 2012 might well be worth $60m—almost the entire amount they are thought to be "overpaying" to their new acquisitions.
You can see exactly what sticks out in that passage. The "near shoo-in" part. When the Dodgers made the trade, they were three games back in the West, and a game-and-a-half back of the second Wild Card. If the Dodgers added Mike Trout, Justin Verlander, and the Braves' bullpen, they might have been considered favorites, but they still wouldn't have been a near shoo-in. There's no such thing in baseball.
It's not just one writer for the Economist who thinks like that, either. You heard similar sentiments on talk radio, or with friends and colleagues. The Dodgers, with that trade, supposedly became the Yankees West, buying a division title as if it were something in a SkyMall catalog. It helped their chances, certainly, but it didn't guarantee anything. You know that's not how baseball works, but you're a baseball wonk. There's a gray area between being familiar with baseball and being a baseball wonk.
And I'm wondering if that's where the button-pushers at Guggenheim Baseball Management reside, too. That instead of a simple acquire-a-superstar strategy, the Gonzalez deal was supposed to pay off immediately, with nothing but upside in 2012. With Gonzalez (and Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino and Blanton and Beckett and Brandon League …), the Dodgers would suddenly become heavy favorites. With the playoff berth came extra money and a revitalized fan base. The financial risks they were taking for, say, 2017 would have been partially mitigated by the goodwill and financial windfall built up with a near-certain playoff appearance. All that was left in 2012 was that near-certain berth.
We'll never know if that's what the Dodgers were thinking. I honestly doubt it. The trade was likely supposed to be a long-term move, and if it worked in the short-term, obviously that was even better, but it wasn't an essential component to the deal. And they wouldn't undo the trade now, even if they had the magic wand to do it.
There's still a part of me that wants to crawl into Magic Johnson's brain and rummage around for a bit, though. For a couple of different reasons -- to check out how this actually happened, for one -- but mostly to figure out how the biggest trade in baseball history came to be, and what the immediate expectations were.