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Trade Retrospective: Red Sox send Adrián González, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers

In possibly the most famous trade of the decade, the Red Sox unloaded a huge amount of salary and even got prospects in return.

Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

For the third straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.

In late August 2012, the Red Sox completed one of the most massive trades in MLB history in terms of number of players, impact, and certainly in dollars. The Red Sox sent Adrián González, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto to the Dodgers in return for James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Jerry Sands, and Iván De Jesús. The Dodgers agreed to cover $258 million of the $270 million owed to the players they received.

In this trade retrospective series, trades will be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.

The Deal

The Red Sox were in the midst of a very disappointing season. They were 60-67 in a year they were expected to contend. Their season was wrecked by injuries, and manager Bobby Valentine was not helping things.

Rookie GM Ben Cherington could be blamed for the poor managerial hiring, but this roster was not his, especially not the onerous contracts on the books. González was on year one of his seven-year, $154 million extension; Beckett was on year two of a four-year, $68 million extension; and Crawford was on year two of a seven-year, $142 million deal signed in free agency. For all of his predecessor Theo Epstein’s successes, he was always much better at trades than big free agent signings.

González had an excellent first year with the Red Sox in 2011 when he arrived via trade from the Padres. He hit .338/.410/.548, good for a 155 wRC+, with excellent defense at first. He was still performing well in 2012, but his wOBA was 60 points lower than the previous season, and his walk rate had dropped over 40 percent. That is concerning coming from a 30-year-old first baseman who did not exactly have elite athleticism.

This was a lot better than what was going on with Beckett and Crawford. Beckett’s extension was looking great in 2011. He had a 3.03 RA9 with better than average strikeout and walk rates, but his .245 BABIP and high strand rate helped a lot with that. In 2012, his fastball velocity dropped by a mile and a half per hour. Furthermore, according to ESPN’s Keith Law, Beckett was struggling when pitching from the stretch due to a high usage of his poor cutter in those situations. As a result, he had a 5.30 RA9 and only a 17 K%.

Crawford’s contract was looking like it could be a historically bad deal. He was recovering from Tommy John surgery after playing only 31 games, but he had an awful first season with the Red Sox the year before. He hit only .255/.289/.405 and was a replacement-level player.

Punto was basically a throw-in. He was a utility player who was making barely any money, but he was one of the worst hitters in baseball. He clearly was not going to be part of the Red Sox’s future.

The Dodgers were flush with cash thanks in part to freeing themselves of the Frank McCourt nightmare. They used that financial freedom to essentially buy Hanley Ramírez from the Marlins a month earlier. At the time of the trade, they were only two games behind the Giants for first place with a little over a month to go. The Wild Card race was also very tight.

One area of tremendous need for the Dodgers was first base. James Loney was hitting a lowly .254/.302/.344. His 75 wRC+ as a first baseman meant that he was nearly a full win below replacement level. You can start to see why the Dodgers were willing to take on Beckett and Crawford’s salary just to get González. He had the potential to be a four- or five-win upgrade over Loney for years to come.

Let’s be clear: a $258 million total commitment for a 30-year-old first baseman is outrageous. Future Hall of Fame second baseman Robinson Canó got $30 million less than that a year later. To be fair, Beckett and Crawford could be expected to enjoy some positive regression in their futures, but the Dodgers were still unlikely to be getting a good return for their money.

The money alone made this a huge win for the Red Sox. The fact that Cherington got the Dodgers to include prospects — and not just throw-ins either — was some Boras-level sorcery.

Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster were the primary prospects of interest in the trade. De la Rosa was just back from his Tommy John recovery, and he was seen as having top-of-the-rotation potential before he had surgery. Webster was seen as somebody who could be a good starter, but there was also reliever risk attached to him. Jerry Sands and Iván DeJesús profiled as bench players at best.

This might look like a very lopsided trade in favor of the Red Sox, but it is not that simple. There is certainly no denying how much more this benefited the Red Sox than the Dodgers. The thing is that the Dodgers were trading from a position of strength: their bottomless pit of money. That is especially relevant in an era where money is a much more plentiful resources than talent. That is true of any team, even those that like to pretend otherwise.

No matter how much money a team spends, there will always be an opportunity cost to bad contracts. The Dodgers just have so much money that it never affects them. There is actually some logic to spending $258 million for a four- to five-win upgrade for at least a few seasons when you are the Dodgers, especially considering their rivalry with the Giants. It is doubtful that many others would have made the same deal, but again, you can see the rationale to it, even if it looks crazy on the surface. Still, there is no denying that this was an exorbitant price for Adrián González.

The Results

González did his part. He hit .297/.344/.441 over 157 PA, which was practically identical to how he hit when he was traded. Even though it was just a month, the gap between González and Loney was so big that he was still about a one win improvement.

Beckett was primed for some positive regression, and it really came through after the trade. He had a 3.35 RA9 over seven starts and his strikeout rate rose to 21 percent. Crawford, of course, was still recovering from Tommy John surgery.

As I mentioned in the recap of the Hanley trade, the Dodgers failed to reach the postseason in 2012. It is hard for a trade to impact a season when there is just one month left.

Going into his age-31 season, González’s best years were behind him, but he was still quite good. Over the following three seasons, he hit .281/.342/.474, with nearly identical slash lines each year. Playing nearly every game with a 127 wRC+ and continued excellent defense netted him 11.6 WAR over that time. He started to slip a little in 2015, but he was still an above-average hitter. Unfortunately, his performance fell off a cliff in 2017. He struggled mightily with injuries, and hit only .242/.287/.355 when he played.

With the rise of Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers and González decided it was best to part ways, even though there was still one year and $21.5 million left on his contract. That amount is nothing for the Dodgers, though. He signed with the Mets during the offseason for one last chance to revitalize his career.

Beckett’s bounceback was short lived. He made only eight starts in 2013 and struggled badly with a 6.23 RA9. He hit the DL with a groin strain in early May. While on the DL, he started having nerve problems in his throwing hand, which was later diagnosed as thoracic outlet syndrome. He had surgery in July and missed the rest of the season. He even had to have a rib removed.

There was a real fear that Beckett’s career was over. Thankfully, he was able to return for the 2014 season. In what was a great feel-good story, he pitched a no-hitter against the Phillies on May 25th, 2014. He only made 20 starts that season due to a hip injury, but he was great when he was on the mound with a 3.19 RA9. After the season, Beckett was a free agent recovering from serious hip surgery. He decided to retire.

Crawford showed signs of his former self in the two years following his Tommy John surgery. He did miss a lot of games due to injury, playing only 221 games over that time. He hit .290/.333/.416 with good baserunning, making him worth 3.9 WAR over that period.

The injuries ended up wrecking the remainder of Crawford’s career. He played in only 69 games in 2015 as a result of a torn oblique muscle, and he was not even a league-average hitter when he did play. In 2016, he was relegated to the bench. He was one of the worst hitters in baseball over the first two months of the season. He hit .185/.230/.235, albeit in only 87 PA. Even though he was still owed $35 million through 2017, the Dodgers decided to designate him for assignment and cut him in June 2016. He has not played baseball in any professional capacity since then.

Nick Punto’s line of .255/.328/.327 in 2013 might not look like much, but it was a big improvement over the previous year. He was worth 2.1 WAR that year thanks to his defense. He landed with the A’s in 2014, but his offense regressed again. The A’s decided to cut him before the 2015 season even though his option vested. He signed a minor league deal with the Diamondbacks, but he never played another game again. He took the year off and then retired.

James Loney was acquired just to take him off the Dodgers’ hands, and he gave the Red Sox no reason to sign him back. He went to the Rays on a one-year deal, and he resurrected his career by hitting .299/.348/.430 in 2013. The Rays rewarded him with a three-year, $21 million deal. Unfortunately, his 117 wRC+ did not last. He fell below replacement level in 2015, and the Rays cut him before the 2016 season. He landed with the Mets but he still could not hit any better than an 89 wRC+. He bounced around on a few different minor league deals, and even spent some time in the KBO last year.

Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster were disappointments. De la Rosa had a 5.56 RA9 in 11 relief appearances in 2013, and then a 4.51 RA9 in the rotation the following year. He could not even strike out 17 percent of the hitters he faced. The Red Sox traded him to the Diamondbacks in December 2014 as a part of a package to get Wade Miley. He never found any more success in Arizona, and sadly, he needed a second Tommy John surgery in August of last year. The Dbacks still decided to bring him back on a two-year minor league deal.

Simply put, Webster was just not an MLB-caliber starter. He had a 6.55 RA9 over two years and 18 starts, with low strikeout rates and high walk rates. Coincidentally, he was also included in the Wade Miley trade. He was not any better with the Diamondbacks, so he was cut after the 2015 season. He has not appeared in the majors since. He spent 2016 in the KBO, and spent 2017 in the Rangers’ system. He recently signed a minor league deal with the Cubs.

Jerry Sands never played a game in the Red Sox organization, and Iván De Jesús only had 8 PA. They were traded in December 2012 to the Pirates for Brock Holt and Joel Hanrahan. Sands never really hit, so his career has consisted of a serious of minor league contracts with different teams. He even spent time in the Atlantic League. He is currently on a minor league deal with the Giants.

My fellow boricua De Jesús spent the 2013 season in the minors. He signed a minor league contract with the Orioles the following year, and later that year got traded back to the Red Sox. He signed with the Reds in 2015. He played 180 games over two seasons as a utility player, but he could not hit, with a line of .249/.311/.341. He spent 2017 on the Brewers’ Triple A team, and he is now on his third stint in the Red Sox organization.

Dodgers Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Adrián González 6 13.3 $125.4
Josh Beckett 2 2.1 $31.6
Carl Crawford 5 2.8 $99.8
Nick Punto 1 2.5 $1.5
Total 14 20.7 $258.3
Baseball Reference, Spotrac

That is actually not nearly as bad as it might look, even though the Dodgers are still paying González and paid $35 million in dead money to Crawford. This is a great example of why the often cited $/WAR metric is so oversimplified. It does not account for a team’s revenue, level of competitiveness, or how much they need those extra wins they are acquiring. Paying $12.5 million per win when you are a highly competitive team with a seemingly endless supply of money is fine. Furthermore, the prospects the Dodgers parted with never panned out. I would argue that the Dodgers’ results are no worse than adequate.

Red Sox Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
James Loney 0 -0.2 $0.0
Rubby de la Rosa 6 0.3 $0.4
Allen Webster 6 -1.4 $0.3
Jerry Sands 6 0 $0.0
Iván DeJesús 6 -0.3 $0.0
Total 24 -1.6 $0.7
Baseball Reference, Spotrac

The Dodgers were paying Loney and no salary information could be found for De Jesús’s cup of coffee with the Red Sox. Honestly, the table doesn’t matter. The trade was a salary dump. The Sox did not need to get anything from the prospects they received to make this trade a huge win. That being said, the trade was not a huge loss for the Dodgers. It was certainly an eyebrow-raising decision when it happened, but thanks to their financial flexibility, the Dodgers made it work.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.