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Saturday, August 25, 2012
A blockbuster unlike any other

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

You know what makes baseball the awesome sport it is? It's that, every once in a while, the impossible somehow becomes possible.

But not like this.

Not in an Aug. 25 entry in the old transactions column that defies comprehension -- even for people who have worked in baseball for many, many years.

Carl Crawford
Carl Crawford was showing signs of life at the plate before undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery on Thursday.

What has just transpired, on an unforgettable Saturday afternoon in Boston and Los Angeles, is a trade unlike any you might ever see again. Nine players. A quarter of a billion dollars in contracts. No-trade clauses turning irrelevant. Waiver red tape be damned.

It's amazing. Astonishing. Un-be-frigging-lievable.

"There has never," said one longtime club official Saturday, "been anything like this."

Never. That pretty much describes the magnitude of a Red Sox-Dodgers megadeal that figures to reverberate through the annals of baseball-trade history for at least the next 87 centuries.

We have never seen a trade in which a team dumped this much money in a single transaction.

We have never seen a trade in which two players with more than $100 million left on their contracts (Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford) were moved, let alone in the same direction, to the same team.

And we have never seen a deal this big, this complicated, go down in August, a time when so many barriers are built in to prevent it.

So how could a trade like this possibly happen -- especially now?

It took, almost literally, the perfect storm. That's how.

On one side of this deal, you had a team in Boston that had begun to unravel on every level and needed desperately to push that big red button that said "KABOOM."

On the other side, you had a team in L.A. that had just turned into That Guy Down the Block Who Hit the Powerball Jackpot, with a burning need to spend its newfound gazillion dollars.

There hasn't been a more perfect match ever devised, not even at eHarmony.com.

The Red Sox have known this deal was out there to be made, in some form, for weeks. But they weren't ready to make it in July, weren't ready to make it in early August, weren't ready to give up on this lost season until the Angels blitzed through town this week and made it apparent what needed to be done.

Adrian Gonzalez
Adrian Gonzalez signed a seven-year, $154 million contract with the Red Sox in April 2011.

By then, it was clear what these Red Sox had become. They were the once-powerful superstore, down the block next to the mall, that suddenly found itself trying to sell a store full of stuff its customers had just decided they hated.

That has happened before in baseball, of course. But here's the difference:

When most teams hang that big Everything Must Go sign, they learn, the hard way, that it can take years to pull off a clearance sale of this magnitude.

For the Red Sox, amazingly, it took just one phone call to just one customer:

The No Longer Owned by Frank and Jamie McCourt Dodgers.

When the sale of this team went down, to the Stan Kasten/Magic Johnson/Guggenheim power brokers, the rest of the sport was bracing for this. Or something like this. And it didn't take long.

In July, before the trading deadline, the Dodgers were contacting just about every team out there that could possibly find itself in money-dump mode and making it clear: "If you need to unload one of your $100 million men, you know where to find us."

So, when the fateful moment arrived for the Red Sox to let the dumpage begin, they knew exactly where to turn.

And the result was this: four prominent Red Sox heading west. Five not-so-prominent Dodgers heading east. One team freeing up $260 million in contracts that figured to hang over their heads for years. The other team changing the landscape of its franchise in one dramatic, expensive swoop. Incredible.

We found dramatic difference of opinion within the sport over whether this is a good deal for the Dodgers. And there are certainly cases to be made each way.

For one thing, Gonzalez is such a massive upgrade over James Loney at first base that he alone could transform the face of the final six weeks of this season.

Dodgers first basemen in 2012: .244/.289/.357, 10 HRs, 55 RBIs, 46 runs. Gonzalez in 2012: .300/.343/.469, 15 HRs, 86 RBIs, 63 runs.

For another thing, Josh Beckett is heading from the AL East to the NL West, with no baggage and no expectations. And, as we reported in Rumblings and Grumblings this week, starting pitchers who went from the AL to the NL in the past five years have seen their ERAs drop, on average, by more than half a run (from 4.07 to 3.51).

Josh Beckett
Since last September, Josh Beckett is an unremarkable 6-13 with a 5.27 ERA in 25 starts.

And, finally, there's Crawford. Maybe he's a lost cause. Maybe he isn't. But he's about to escape a town he didn't want to play in for a place (Southern California) he preferred all along. So, the Dodgers are willing to roll those dice.

The other thing to remember is that, as the Dodgers looked at this free-agent market, they reportedly didn't like the view. There were very few attractive options at positions such as first base and left field, where they desperately needed to upgrade. So, five more years of Gonzalez and Crawford must have started looking better all the time.

But, on the other hand, other clubs have expressed surprise that the Dodgers couldn't get a team as desperate as the Red Sox to eat more money. And they're not sold on Crawford's ability to revive his career. And, given that he's about to get paid $101.5 million over the next five years, that needs to happen.

And then there are the Red Sox. Yes, they've freed up millions and millions of dollars. Yes, they get to just about start over in reconstructing their roster. Yes, they've rid themselves of players their fans had decisively turned on.

But where do they turn to find immediate answers in a limited free-agent market? It won't be easy.

It's very possible, other clubs believe, that the Red Sox could be forced to go into a dreaded rebuilding phase for the next year or two. And "rebuilding" is a word they hate so much that they refuse to utter it, as Gordon Edes pointed out in his brilliant piece for ESPNBoston.com on Friday night.

But wherever this leads, two of baseball's marquee franchises have just completely changed the shape of their franchises -- for the short haul, for the long haul and for all the hauls in between.

And at least they've reminded us, once again, that, in baseball, we should never say never. If a trade like this one can go down on Aug. 25, anything is possible -- on the field, off the field and in a transactions column near you.