We have seen in the past how one or two moves can change the landscape of the AL East. In 2009 it was the free agent signings of Mark Teixiera, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett that launched the Yankees to the World Series. Last year Boston’s acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez had everyone believing the balance of power had changed in the AL East. They ended up being right, however only because the Red Sox missed the playoffs entirely, and Tampa continued to show why they are a top two team in the division for years to come.
This year, the big move is between Boston and the Los Angeles Dodgers, sending Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto, and Josh Beckett westward. In return, they got two good pitching prospects, James Loney, an infield prospect and an outfield prospect. More than anything, the Red Sox basically gave up Adrian Gonzalez and in return they received salary relief for Beckett and Crawford.
While the prospects are nice, the main thing this does for Boston is give them much more financial flexibility. The Red Sox have freed up close to $260 million in payroll with this move. This allows them to compete for some big time free agents this offseason, including Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke, Mike Napoli, and James Shields. There will of course be plenty of teams competing with them to sign these players.
In the short term, what this does is hurt the Red Sox, and actually helps the Yankees this season. The Yankees have six games left in the season versus the Sox, and they have a much better chance of winning without Adrian Gonzalez in that lineup. They have also basically given up on this season and have officially gone into rebuilding mode, something we haven’t seen in years.
For the long term, this move opens up a plethora of future opportunities for the Red Sox. Aside from all of the free agents they can go after, they can now give some of their prospects an extended look to see what they have to build their team around. I can actually see how that might be fun for a fan, especially when you know you’re team is going to spend the money eventually.
As has been said a million times before, however, the more things change the more they stay the same. The Red Sox were not a playoff team even before the trade. The trade made them worse. To get back to a playoff contending team, they will have to not only recoup the losses they suffered in this trade, but will still have to get better beyond that. This is no easy task, and will most likely take a considerable amount of time.
Even if they sign Josh Hamilton this offseason, they won’t be good enough to contend yet. Hamilton is better than A-Gon, but not by enough to get this team out of the bottom of the barrel. Zack Greinke and James Shields would get them close, but neither is a sure thing, especially Greinke in the AL East. Both will command the type of contract that got the Red Sox into this mess to begin with. They don’t seem like the answer to me.
The truth of the matter, however, is that none of these guys are guaranteed to sign with the Red Sox no matter how many truckloads of cash are sent their way. They could be hesitant to sign with a rebuilding team, and recently we have seen players spurn big money franchises and signing for less money due to emotional/sentimental factors(i.e. Cliff Lee).
In the end this was an excellent trade for the Red Sox. It allowed them to begin their rebuilding process. It is just that, however. A process. They are a long way away from competing with the powerhouses of the AL East again (Tampa and New York). Heck, even the Orioles are ahead of them this season and for the foreseeable future. Freeing up money to sign more free agents is not enough to turn a franchise around. They will have to make good, smart signings with that money, develop some homegrown talent to build the team around, and stay healthy.
All of this just demonstrates how impressive it is that the Yankees have been so consistent for the past 17 years. People can say it’s because of the money, but the two teams besides the Yankees that had the highest payrolls to start the season (Philadelphia and Boston), are going to miss the playoffs this season. The next two highest payrolls (Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers), are fighting tooth and nail for a wild card slot. I would say that the Yankees front office has done quite a job keeping a competitive, playoff caliber team on the field year after year. After all, once in the playoffs, anything can happen.