11:15 am Aug. 27, 20122
Over the weekend, the Red Sox unilaterally disarmed from their decade-long arms race with the Yankees. It's a concession by Boston as far as 2012 is concerned, but it's not all good news for their Bronx rivals.
The Red Sox traded first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, outfielder Carl Crawford, pitcher Josh Beckett and infielder Nick Punto to the Dodgers in exchange for first baseman James Loney and some marginal prospects. But they really traded those four players for the massive salary relief shedding those players would provide the roster, roughly a quarter of a billion dollars.
The trade is a highly suspect one for the Dodgers; they've become marginally better, while greatly increasing their financial obligations over much of the rest of this decade. Gonzalez is a clear upgrade at first base, but Crawford may not be able to play this season, with his elbow requiring Tommy John surgery sooner than later, and Beckett has been massively underperforming all year.
So Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington gained a bunch of financial flexibility without losing much present-day value.
The Crawford surgery was going to sideline him for most of 2013, while Beckett had been a below-average starter all season. Gonzalez had an O.P.S. of 113 in 2012, which is roughly equivalent to Loney's career mark of 110, though Loney has been well below that in 2012.
Loney is a free agent after this season, however, while Gonzalez is signed through 2018, earning $21 million each year through 2016, and $21.5 million in 2017 and 2018. He's already 30 years old. He will help the Dodgers in a wide-open 2012 National League, but the best part of the trade for the Dodgers is probably on the downward slope of his career.
The Red Sox now have approximately $44 million committed for 2013, tied up in five players: John Lackey, the pitcher who missed 2012 due to Tommy John surgery, but should return; second baseman Dustin Pedroia; pitchers Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester; and shortstop Jose Iglesias. The first four are likely to be the front of the rotation and the team's everyday second baseman; Iglesias has yet to show he's ready to play in the major leagues.
That leaves plenty of holes, but also, plenty of money with which to fill them, with attendance projected to surpass 3 million fans once again, at Fenway Park's notoriously expensive prices.
The Red Sox, had they remained hamstrung by those onerous contracts, had significant limits on their ability to spend to contend. And they are also the only team in the division with the kind of revenue that allows them to challenge the Yankees at their own game; the Tampa Bay Rays have been staying in contention by outworking everyone with a payroll that is a small fraction of both New York's and Boston's.
The trade probably means the Red Sox won't contend in 2013, but they weren't doing so anyway. This winter's free agent crop is highlighted by Melky Cabrera, to give you a sense of how poor the immediate solutions are. By 2014, however, plenty of opportunities to improve, large and small, will have come and gone. And the Red Sox are free to pursue all of them once again, while the Yankees remain committed to keeping salary below the $189 million luxury tax in 2014.
So by the winter of 2013, while the Red Sox have just $33 million on the books, the Yankees will have more than $73 million committed to Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, along with whatever long-term extension they pay to Robinson Cano, and a 2014 option on Derek Jeter taking the Yankees north of $100 million to five players. They'll both be facing roughly the same ceiling, though, giving the Red Sox a decided spending edge, and shortly.
The New Yorker likened the trade to the fall of the Soviet Union. Really, it's more like discovering that the Soviets have shut down work on a bunch of outdated weapons systems and shifted their investment to missile bases in Cuba.