Commentary

Ex-Red Sox enjoying better fortune

Gonzalez, Crawford and other new Dodgers are appreciating their time in L.A.

Updated: August 23, 2013, 10:20 PM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

MIAMI -- Last December, a couple of months after the Los Angeles Dodgers' blockbuster August trade with the Boston Red Sox failed to get them to the postseason, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly joined ESPNLA 710 on the phone from his Indiana home.

Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillFrom left, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto were introduced as Dodgers last August.

Asked why things didn't work out, Mattingly discussed cohesiveness and said, "The Boston guys were so happy to be in L.A. that they didn't care what happened, it didn't feel like."

The Dodgers learned a lesson late in 2012 and have seen it cemented through 2013. No matter how bold the move, a baseball team sorts itself out over months, not weeks.

"We tried. It's just not enough time," said Nick Punto, one of the four veterans the Dodgers landed on Aug. 25 in exchange for first baseman James Loney, four prospects and roughly $250 million in salary relief. "I didn't realize how long it takes to get trust from teammates."

The anniversary of the trade is Sunday, and, coincidentally, the Red Sox are at Dodger Stadium with both teams near the top of their respective leagues.

Over time, the trade has had its desired effect for both teams, and that doesn't happen often. The Red Sox got out of some bulky contracts and were able to make a few winter moves that have helped them return to a position of prominence in the American League, a development that none of the former Red Sox are surprised at.

The Dodgers' owners, aware of a massive new TV deal in the offing, didn't care how much the trade cost as long as it built excitement in their downtrodden fan base. They continued to spend lavishly in the offseason, signing pitchers Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who have been among the best starters in the major leagues.

Over time, the players the Dodgers acquired from Boston have blended seamlessly into their new team, holding things together while even more impactful seasons from the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw have propelled the Dodgers forward like a meteor since late June.

Adrian Gonzalez leads the Dodgers in hits (140), home runs (16), RBIs (77) and runs scored (59), though he lags behind Kershaw, Ramirez and Puig in wins above replacement (WAR). Carl Crawford, who was still recovering from elbow surgery last season, missed more than 40 games with hamstring issues but has again become a disruptive force atop the lineup, batting .289 with a .340 on-base percentage and 29 extra-base hits.

Punto, who had languished on Boston's bench, was a pleasant surprise when the Dodgers were beset by injuries -- filling in at shortstop, second base and third base -- and has led the team in hustle since Opening Day. Josh Beckett was bothered by nerve irritation in his right arm throughout season until he eventually succumbed to season-ending surgery. The Dodgers hope he's a factor in their rotation in 2014.

What the Boston trade eventually supplied the Dodgers was exactly what they were looking for -- a foundation of productive talent to anchor their efforts to rebuild amid the rubble of the Frank McCourt era.

[+] EnlargeCarl Crawford
Victor Decolongon/Getty ImagesCarl Crawford has enjoyed a resurgence with the Dodgers. Staying healthy hasn't hurt.

What it gave the players was a fresh start thousands of miles from a festering clubhouse environment. They've all benefited from that in one way or another.

Crawford has been the most outspoken about how much more comfortable he feels in Los Angeles than he felt in Boston, where he never responded to the frantic energy of the fans, where he clashed with hitting coach Dave Magadan and where he felt the team lost faith in him too quickly. It also hasn't hurt that he's managed to stay healthier in L.A.

"That was one of the toughest times in my life, ever, from when I was a little kid, 1 year old," Crawford said. "It definitely was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my life to be traded over here.

"You make $20 million, but it's not like they're begging me to hit a home run every time I go up there, you know what I'm saying? It's not like I need to go 5-for-5 every at-bat and, if I don't, I'm considered the worst player on the planet."

Crawford said he has been cautioned to hold his tongue when talking about his two seasons in Boston, but he said, "It [ticked] me off so much, the things I had said about me. I have the type of spirit that, if you say something to me, I'm going to say something back."

For Gonzalez and Punto, the change has been refreshing for lifestyle reasons as much as for the baseball climate. Both players are from Southern California. Gonzalez is playing roughly three hours, by freeway, from his San Diego home. He enjoys connecting with Southern California's large population of Mexican-American fans. Punto commutes to Dodger Stadium with fellow utility guy Skip Schumaker from his home in Orange County.

Both Gonzalez and Punto said they enjoyed their time in Boston. They're just enjoying their time in L.A. a little more. It hasn't hurt that the Dodgers have played .818 baseball since June 22, going from 9½ games back in the standings to 9½ games up.

Gonzalez was pulled into some controversy in Boston after a group of players reportedly complained about manager Bobby Valentine to the team's owners.

"For the most part, we underperformed last year in Boston and we didn't win," Gonzalez said. "The year before, we won. We just didn't make it to the postseason at the end. I had a good time. The only things I had there weren't really a big deal."

Gonzalez said he expected the Red Sox to return to prominence -- even after parting with so many established players in last season's trade -- because of Boston's talented core of Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront and Will Middlebrooks.

"Then, put solid players around them, they should have success if they play up to their abilities," Gonzalez said.

Punto said he loved playing in Boston because the fans held players accountable and added that Pedroia's mindset was one key to the 2012 Red Sox's fortunes.

"Pedroia is the heartbeat of that club, and when he's not happy, it's not a good thing," Punto said. "He was definitely not very happy."

Pedroia is happy now, presumably. And we don't need to presume about the psychological state of the Dodgers' former Red Sox.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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