Friday, August 24, 2012
Is Dodgers' trade a reach for the stars?
By Mark Saxon
LOS ANGELES -- There's a frantic feel to this Dodgers' rush to remake themselves.
It's crazy to think that Adrian Gonzalez isn't a massive upgrade over anybody the Dodgers could run out there at first base. Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford -- when he's finally healthy -- could prove to be classic examples of players who thrive when they leave a toxic environment.
Gonzalez, a quiet, respected Southern Californian whose parents are from Mexico, could be a perfect face for the franchise.
But the risks are, at the very least, worrisome. At some point, every team reaches its financial breaking point. Noticed the New York Yankees throwing money around in the past couple of years? Even the most reckless spenders in baseball have apparently bumped their head on how much luxury tax they're willing to sprinkle around the rest of the league.
The other American League spendthrifts, the Boston Red Sox, clearly are looking to downsize and they've found the perfect partner in the Dodgers. These are two large-market teams passing one another while moving in opposite directions. It's the perfect recipe for the biggest post-deadline trade in baseball history.
Are the Dodgers so sure this team is close to being a World Series contender? It's not so easy to make yourself into a World Series contender starting in July.
We have yet to see a contract this Dodgers ownership group finds too onerous. Cliff Lee and the $87.5 million he'll be owed beyond this season? Why not.
Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett's combined quarter of a billion (plus $12.5 million)? Sure. Never mind that every American League team and 10 National League teams allowed those guys to sail through waivers.
It's pretty obvious what this is about, just as it quickly became clear why the Angels jumped into the Albert Pujols auction at the winter meetings. If there was any doubt, owner Arte Moreno cleared it up when, at Pujols' news conference, he thanked the executives at Fox. It was the $3 billion, 20-year TV deal he had just polished off that emboldened him to become so suddenly aggressive after two years of relative passivity.
The Dodgers figure to blow away the Angels' TV deal after their current contract expires after next season. It has been widely reported that their next TV deal could set a new baseball record.
So, they can afford these guys, but what's the hurry? Would it make more sense to wait until the offseason, when there's a wider pool of available talent and more time to map out a plan?
It's only a risky move, of course, if Gonzalez and Beckett don't put the Dodgers in the World Series, or at least to the cusp, this season. And maybe they will. Gonzalez hasn't had an OPS under .800 since he was a 23-year-old rookie. Beckett still throws 92 mph, on average, even if he has a 9.92 ERA in August. It's hard to see what Nick Punto and his .200 average are doing in this deal other than to sweeten it for the Red Sox.
But things get dicey, as usual, when you start to project. The Dodgers will be paying Beckett -- who has had back issues and whose velocity has declined for three straight seasons -- $15.75 million when he's 34 in 2014.
They'll be paying Gonzalez, whose home run totals have gone from 40 to 31 to 27 to 15 (so far) over the past four seasons, $21.5 million when he's 36 in 2018.
The good news for Dodgers fans is these owners have yet to show a limit to how much they're willing to spend, so maybe -- as the Yankees did all those years -- they'll just fix their mistakes by writing checks. It also looks as if they're willing to invest in the bread-and-butter element: drafting and developing young players. It's a good sign that they shelled out $42 million for Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig earlier this year even if they overpaid a bit, as most baseball people think they did.
Another risk, of course, is predicated on something delicate and hard to predict. How will seven new players -- including Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and the two new relievers -- mesh with the rest of the team? Both Ramirez and Beckett have shaky clubhouse reputations. The Dodgers were a model of teamwork and camaraderie when they were shocking baseball and racing out to the best record in the game in April.
At some point, we'll find the limit to what this team is willing to do to remake itself. Right now, it feels like the sky is only the beginning.