October 12, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Jerry Green

Baseball's version of 'Let's Make a Deal' is difference between winners and losers

Adrian Gonzalez was a mainstay in the Dodgers' rush from last place in July to MLB's so-called 2013 Final Four, (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

The trade was negotiated on a Saturday morning between two clubs scraping bottom in a summer of failed expectations.

Baseball’s normal trade deadline, the non-waiver movement of valued athletes, had passed three weeks earlier. By then, those who deal in trade gossip had shamelessly buried their false rumors as if they had never offered their guesswork to the bamboozled public.

This one — a monster of a deal — caught the trade-rumor quacks with their trousers in the closet.

It was midsummer of 2012 — August, the dog days of the baseball season.

The Red Sox had flopped under new management. They had faltered from the very beginning of the season. They were meant to be contenders and indeed the franchise had been for more than a decade. It was long after the Curse of the Bambino — Boston’s punishment for peddling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919 — had fragmented into nonsense.

Twice the Red Sox had won World Series in the first decade of the 21st Century.

More was expected of the Red Sox — that was a perennial notion in Boston.

But the year before, 2011, they had taken a historic pratfall from contention in September. And when that happens, there are always consequences. The guilty were kicked out of Boston — Terry Francona, the manager, and Theo Epstein, the general manager.

No matter that Francona and Epstein had been knighted as architects of the Red Sox’s victorious World Series in 2004 and 2007.

To replace the erudite Francona, the Red Sox hired the preening, self-anointed wizard of baseball, Bobby Valentine. Epstein walked to the Cubs, replaced in Boston by his assistant, relatively unknown Ben Cherington.

The result was chaos and clubhouse insurgency against Valentine. In that atmosphere, the Red Sox lost 93 games and finished last in the American League East.

Also in 2012, there had been an upheaval in pro basketball-happy Los Angeles.

The Dodgers, for years, had been the proudest and most successful club in the National League. But through the early years of this century they had been operated in a cheapskate manner by one Frank McCourt, an available target for the whiners in the L.A. media. And they are plentiful.

High expectations

L.A. sports journalists bellyache about anything less than a championship. And the Dodgers, it was pointed out had not won a World Series since 1988 — the year of Kirk Gibson’s historic home run — and had not reached the postseason since 2009.

All of L.A. cheered when McCourt sold his franchise for $2.15 billion to Guggenheim Baseball Partners, a subsidiary of the Guggenheim Group. Guggenheim brought Earvin Johnson into its baseball management regime. In a city flocked with cinema celebrities, there is no more recognizable face and popular citizen than Magic Johnson.

The new owners, with their cash-available billions, vowed not to stint on spending for players. So it was that the Dodgers and their general manager, Ned Colletti, agreed to bail out the panicking Red Sox on Saturday August 25, 2012. The date was six days before Major League Baseball’s waiver trade deadline.

The deal involved nine players of varied value. All had passed through the waivers process.

And each club had strong motivation to make the trade.

In player ability, the deal was a steal in favor of the Dodgers.

They received veterans Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto and John Beckett. Gonzalez and Crawford were examples of the Red Sox’ extravagance. The two had been acquired for the Red Sox by Epstein.

Gonzalez went to Boston in a convenience trade with the Padres. Immediately he was signed for $154 million in a seven-year extension of his contract through 2018.

Two days later, the Red Sox signed Crawford in free agency from the Rays for $147 million, another seven-year contract through 2018.

Each was expected to flourish with the Red Sox and produce another pennant winner.

They failed in Boston. And each guy hated playing for the Red Sox.

In monetary value, the deal was a stick-’em up robbery for the Red Sox.

The Guggenheim people, with their spend-and then-spend-more philosophy, assumed $270 million in contracted salaries from the Red Sox. The Dodgers became obligated to pay Gonzalez and Crawford.

The players the Dodgers shipped to Boston were James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Ivan DeJesus, Jerry Sands and Allen Webster. Loney was the only one of the five players with any Major-League reputation. And he, DeJesus and Sands were quickly gone for the Red Sox organization.

Gonzalez and Crawford became mainstays in the Dodgers’ rush from last place in July to MLB’s so-called 2013 Final Four, the last mile toward the World Series. Punto was a valuable utility player. And Beckett, he was injured much of the season.

In Boston, Valentine was booted from his job and John Farrell was hired away from the Blue Jays as manager for 2013.

And with a cash bonanza, Cherington spent the winter signing free agents to re-bolster the Red Sox. Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino became everyday players of value in Boston. Ryan Dempster and Jonny Gomes were helpful additions.

The Red Sox went from a team that had folded up in 2011 and essentially surrendered in 2012 to the team facing the Tigers in 2013 for the American League pennant.

From 93 losses under Valentine, the Red Sox went to 97 victories under Farrell. They dominated the AL East, with the best record in the league.

Winners and losers

Trades fuel baseball conversation. They appeal to the multitudes. They supply the grist for flooded market of sports-talk radio. Trades fuel, also, the speculative thrusts of sports journalists.

And trades are the basic reason the four surviving clubs are in the championship series of both major leagues.

“The best trades,” the cliché inventors tell us, “are those that help both sides.”

This is another of baseball’s multitude of myths.

The Red Sox and Dodgers are in their championship series due to the blockbuster trade on a Saturday in August last year. They made a rare trade that helped both sides.

The Cardinals are competing with the Dodgers for a pennant fortified by long-ago trades for Matt Holliday with the Athletics and David Freese with the Padres.

And the Tigers are playing the Red Sox due to a blockbuster trade six years ago — the deal for Miguel Cabrera. Since then, the Tigers have picked off Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez in lopsided trades.

Dombrowski’s best trade was the deal for Cabrera. It hoisted the Tigers into the pennant championship series three times now — and into the World Series once.

Help both sides?

For the pitiful Marlins, the trade helped them do absolutely nothing.


Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sportswriter. Read his web-exclusive column Sundays at detroitnews.com.