In Los Angeles, the Dodgers have become the new Yankees. Just a year ago, the organization was still a mess as the Frank McCourt ownership debacle was worked out. The team had been in financial ruins as McCourt’s nasty divorce battle played out, leaving the baseball world frustrated with the state of a once-great franchise.
How things have changed.
In a matter of months, the team was sold to a group led by former LA Laker Magic Johnson and started spending money like mad men. It was clear the new owners had no intention to wait through a rebuilding period. It all started with the mid-season acquisitions of shortstop Hanley Ramirez and outfielder Shane Victorino. Then, they acquired three players from the Boston Red Sox who will be an integral part of whether or not the Dodgers can reclaim the NL West in 2013.
In August, seemingly out of nowhere, the Dodgers and Red Sox agreed to a blockbuster trade to send first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, outfielder Carl Crawford, and pitcher Josh Beckett to LA in exchange for mostly prospects. From the Red Sox perspective, it was an escape from a disastrous year-and-a-half and a chance to hit the reset button. But it meant just as much to the Dodgers.
This trade was a statement for the franchise. Not only did the team trade away two of its top pitching prospects in Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, but it also brought in more than a quarter-billion dollars in new salaries. It was a fast and stark turnaround from the way the bankrupt organization had been operating under the old regime.
At the time of the trade, the Dodgers were just three games back in the division and management hoped the trade would get them back into a playoff spot. Ultimately, that did not work, as they finished just two games out of a wild card berth. But the Gonzalez/Crawford/Beckett acquisition was not a short-term commitment. Gonzalez is under contract through 2018, Crawford through 2017, and Beckett through 2014.
Now, the Dodgers embark on their first full-season with these three all-stars on the roster. Gonzalez was the centerpiece of the deal as LA was trying to add a big bat to the middle of an order that finished near the bottom of the league in runs scored. He did help a bit in his 36 games in 2012, hitting .297 and driving in 22 runs.
For Gonzalez to be truly effective with the Dodgers, though, he’s going to have to increase his power production. In his last four seasons with the San Diego Padres, from 2007-2010, he averaged more than 34 home runs per season, topping 30 each time. In his last two seasons with Boston and LA, he hit a total of just 45, an average of just 22.5 a year.
After his trade to Boston, he became more of a doubles and singles hitter. While not necessarily a bad thing when he hit .338, as he did in 2011, it’s not the type of production you’d hope for from a $21MM per year first baseman. The Dodgers will need him to return to his power-hitting ways to help them improve from their second-worst NL total of 116 home runs last season. A return to his home-region of southern California and the NL West, where he enjoyed his best success, may help.
The Dodgers are counting on Beckett rebounding by escaping from Boston, as well. He had plenty of good times in Boston, winning a World Series and making three all-star teams. He wore out his welcome with the Red Sox, though, with his attitude and disappointing play. In 2012, he was 5-11 with a 5.23 ERA before being traded. He did pitch well in his 7 starts with LA last year. He was 2-3 with a 2.93 ERA and had three quality starts while finishing just one out shy of two more. It was an impressive turnaround from the disastrous season he was suffering through in the American League.
With the Dodgers, he won’t need to be the top of the rotation pitcher he was for the Red Sox, alleviating some of the pressure that comes along with the responsibility. He could also be poised for a big 2013 based on the arc of his career. Coincidence or not, in odd-numbered years, he is a career 76-38 with a 3.27 ERA, while he is 56-57 with a 4.56 ERA in even-numbered years. With a starting pitching staff that already had the third best ERA in baseball last year, the addition of a productive Beckett could give them the deepest rotation in the game, making them dangerous every night and protecting them in the case of injury.
The question mark among the ex-Red Sox remains Carl Crawford. After an underwhelming season in 2011, he managed to play in just 31 games last year and underwent Tommy John surgery in August. He has recovered enough to resume workouts this week, but is still unlikely to be ready for Opening Day.
Like Gonzalez, Crawford didn’t turn out to be the star the Red Sox thought they were going to get. In 161 games between two seasons, he hit .260 and had only 23 stolen bases. In the previous eight seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, he hit .299 and averaged 50 steals a season.
It is possible that Crawford just never felt comfortable in Boston and, if that was the case, he wouldn’t be the first. Boston is not an easy place to play and a down season or two doesn’t signify the end of a career. For instance, after a nice run with the St. Louis Cardinals, Edgar Renteria spent one unceremonious year in Boston in 2005 before being traded to the Atlanta Braves where he made another all-star team the next season. If Crawford becomes more the player he was in Tampa than what he was with the Red Sox, the Dodgers could have the best outfield in all of baseball with him, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier.
The Dodgers took a huge risk in the trade with the Red Sox last August. They sent away a couple of potential future stars for past all-stars. It was a great statement to their fans that the team was committed to spending money in an effort to win in the present, but the success of this trade and, in all likelihood, the team, is predicated on these three players bouncing back.
Putting together a high-priced team of stars and egos is not a fool-proof plan. The Yankees have done it for the better part of the last decade and have one World Series title to show for it. The Marlins tried it last year and blew up their roster before even a full season. And, of course, the Red Sox self-destructed with these very same players.
Each Gonzalez, Crawford, and Beckett has the ability to contribute to something very special in Los Angeles and they all have the talent to lead the way. But, with the money involved, they will be expected to get this team further than it’s been in two decades. It’s a tall order for most anyone and even more so for players with something to prove.