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The Dodgers looked like they were ready to contend just one month ago, but their play since has dashed those dreams.
On August 25, the Los Angeles Dodgers made a trade with the Boston Red Sox. It was an under-the-radar move, so you might have missed it. They sent a package of prospects and young players along with first baseman James Loney, receiving Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto, and their respective contracts in return. The move wasn't just made to win in 2012 -- Crawford isn't even going to suit up until next season, and Gonzalez is under contract through 2018 -- but given the Dodgers were a half-game out of the wild card, and two out of the division, it's safe to say it was about the present, too.
Fast-forwarding to today, one month after one of the largest and likely most significant trades in baseball history, and the Dodgers are now 4½ out of the second wild card, the only avenue to the playoffs left to them. They were 68-58 before the trade; they're just 11-17 since. According to Baseball Prospectus, their playoff chances have dropped from 45 percent to 0.9 percent in the span of a month. Did the reportedly toxic Red Sox clubhouse move west as part of this deal, sabotaging the Dodgers from the inside like some kind of Trojan Malcontent? It's less devious than that, but just as sad if you root for Los Angeles.
Step back to a time before the trade -- and before even the Hanley Ramirez swap -- and you see the Dodgers at their best. On June 17, they were 17 games over .500 at 42-25, leading the NL West by five games. Since that date, the apex of their season, Los Angeles has stumbled to a 37-50 record. Acquiring Gonzalez, Beckett, and Ramirez wasn't meant to put the Dodgers over the top. It was supposed to stop the bleeding.
In a way, those deals have served as an effective tourniquet. Adrian Gonzalez hasn't been as good as the Dodgers need him to be, nor has he even been as productive as in Boston. Throw a little context in, though, such as the production of the man Gonzalez replaced, and you see why he's not the reason they're failing. A .263/.315/.430 (and 104 OPS+) isn't much until it's compared to James Loney's .254/.302/.344, a line more than 30 percent below-average for a first baseman.
Ramirez has played 49 of his 56 games in Dodger blue at short, and he's hit .262/.314/.457 for them. Prior to Hanley's acquisition, Dodgers' shortstops combined for .232/.285/.319, the worst of any position on the team. Ramirez has been 20 percent better than your average shortstop via split-adjusted OPS+, and even greater than that when propped up against those he replaced.
Beckett has been everything the Dodgers hoped for after switching out of the AL East and into a pitcher-friendly park. In his 37 innings and six starts, the right-hander owns a 122 ERA+ and three times as many strikeouts as walks. He's just 1-3, though, despite limiting the opposition to just one earned run in half of his Dodger starts.
What's been the problem, if not all of the new additions? In short: everything else. As team, the Dodgers are hitting .234/.300/.347 since August 25, whereas the National League as a whole is at .256/.322/.400 over the same stretch. While Beckett has been a useful member of the rotation, only one other starter can say the same -- Clayton Kershaw has allowed just six runs in his last five starts, but the other three-fifths of the Dodger rotation own a 4.71 ERA since the trade. That would be manageable for many teams, albeit far from ideal, but the Dodgers have scored just 84 runs in the 28 games since the mega-trade -- just three per game.
The Dodgers were never prolific scorers in 2012, but the last month has dropped them from just over four runs per contest to 3.8. The league-average ERA in the NL in 2012 is 3.97, meaning the Dodgers, even if they had an above-average rotation, would struggle to score enough runs. In a related story, Los Angeles currently owns the fourth-best ERA+ in the NL.
You can't single out the struggling parties, as it's nearly every regular:
Ethier, Gonzalez, and Luis Cruz are the only hitters with an OPS over the NL average of 720. Even accounting for the pitcher-friendly nature of Dodger Stadium doesn't help Los Angeles out here, as no one else besides Ellis is even close enough to benefit from the adjustments enough to be included. These are all of the Dodgers who have accumulated at least 50 at-bats since the trade, and a majority has spent those bringing down their season line and the Dodgers' record.
They aren't broken forever -- Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez, two important pieces of the core, are far better than this. As is Adrian Gonzalez, who just last year hit .338/.410/.548, and had looked as if he was coming around prior to the trade. In 2012, though, time has all but run out for them, barring a miraculous last week of baseball.