How the Dodgers’ Massive Trade WASN’T a Bust

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ August acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford was the most phenomenal bust in the history of Major League Baseball trades. LA is unlikely to make the playoffs at this point, being two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the final Wild Card spot with only three games left to play. Even if by some miraculous meltdown in Missouri the Dodgers are able to simply tie the Cards, they’ll still have to play a one-game playoff at home in order to play yet another Wild Card one game playoff just for the “honor” of being shot straight into a five-game series with the best team in the National League. Needless to say the Dodgers have a pretty unlikely road to success. For a team that many people, including those on this blog, felt were now the class of the NL, the Dodgers struggled mightily post-trade and now sit on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Even in the rosiest of scenarios, this Dodgers team is such a far cry from who they were supposed to be. It’s pretty pathetic; even roughly $260 million dollars couldn’t buy them a playoff spot.

Too bad that this viewpoint is an uneducated display of how incredibly short-sighted trade analysis has become, where short-term benefits and overarching statements rule the day. I’d like to lay back and say that this trade’s success can’t be examined yet, but that’s an impartially true statement. As it stands right now, even if the Dodgers don’t win the NL pennant this year, let alone make the playoffs, this trade is still an unqualified success. Here’s why:

There are a bevy of other reasons why the Dodgers aren’t making the posteason…not just the new guys.

Mike Petriello of the superb blog Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness detailed it better than I could, citing nine different reasons, ranging from injuries to the starting rotation, Matt Kemp and the unbelievable play of the San Francisco Giants even when their best hitter feel on top of some leftover needles in left field. LA’s problems go far past the incredibly slow start of Gonzalez and Beckett’s very good, but not ace-quality starts. This collapse of sorts has been a team-wide phenomenon, rather than just limited to a few players that were supposed to be season-saving saviors. Blaming the new imports from Boston is an over-simplification worthy of the city they came from.

How many power-hitting, Gold Glove-caliber first basemen were ready to join the Dodgers?

The answer is: zero.  In the next two seasons, the best available free agents would be, in no particular order: Paul Konerko (38), Carlos Pena (35), Justin Morneau (33) Mike Morse (32) and Nick Swisher (32). All certainly fit the bill of big time power hitters, but every single one of them is on the rough side of 30. Morneau, Morse and Swisher all could be impact acquisitions, but none of them fit into the Dodgers plans quite as well as Gonzalez does. Swisher and Morse are the youngest guys here, but both will command deals of at least four years, $60 million for two players past their primes and won’t ever be able to contribute the same type of MVP ceiling as Adrian. Morneau is a proven player, but like Morse has an extremely sketchy injury history that shouldn’t warrant anything past a one or two year contract. Pena and Konerko are both fine players, but neither has age on their sides like Gonzalez does.

The new Dodgers 1B comes without most of these question marks. He’s had an impeccable health history and is in the middle of his prime. He is undoubtedly still an MVP-caliber player who belongs right in the middle of a batting order. He’s the best free agent the Dodgers couldn’t have signed.

Via trade, the possibilities are of course endless, but LA is without much resources in their minor system at this point. Trading for an impact first baseman, such as say, Joey Votto, Edwin Encarnacion or Mark Trumbo, wasn’t going to happen. Of course there’s no way to say this definitively, but a deal where a player like Adrian Gonzalez was going to be available would have been as rare as the trade itself was. As in, non-existent. The guy LA needed wasn’t going to be available to just out and out purchase. It might be hard to believe, but this was probably the easiest, best way for the Dodgers to acquire a player like this. Please excuse for me a second while I throw up.

The Dodgers need another starting pitcher – not just for 2012, but for 2013

LA isn’t just going to have one starting slot opening at the beginning of next season – it’ll most likely have two. 36 year-old Ted Lilly just had shoulder surgery after an injury-plagued 2012. He’ll be ready for next season, but it’s not certain that he can be counted on for the same type of excellence he’s given the Dodgers the past two years. At his age, I think the team has to look at him as a back-end of the rotation option, and certainly not one that will be turning in 30 starts again. Chad Billingsley has gone out with a partially torn ligament in his pitching elbow, and though he hasn’t been scheduled for Tommy John surgery, Dr. Frank Jobe is sharpening his scalpels.

The Dodgers needed another top of the rotation guy, and from the looks of him so far, Beckett can still be that guy. In his seven starts with the team, the right-hander has pitched to a 3.16 ERA with a 1.29 WHIP and 33 strikeouts to only 11 walks in 37 innings. He’s not the dominator he was during his 2007 heyday, but he’s still got a lot of life on his fastball and the same steely demeanor on the mound. If you think the guy is a clubhouse cancer and asshole, you’re partially right; he’s probably still an asshole. But the truth is that Josh Beckett is still a very good baseball player, and one that the Dodgers sorely needed. Yes, pitchers like Shaun Marcum, Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, Jake Peavy, Ervin Santana and Kyle Lohse could all potentially be had via free agency this winter, but I’m not so sure that any of them are as valuable to the Dodgers as Beckett is. Even the most talented of them, a 28 year-old Greinke, might not be a right fit for the Los Angeles Dodgers, rather than the Anaheim Angels (there’s a big difference, for the uninitiated).

Please note, that other than space on the 25-man roster, this trade won’t preclude the front office from going after other names

The Dodgers fade from the top of the standings has been mostly about the team’s sudden offensive impotence at the plate that would make even the drunkest college senior blush. It’s not that the lineup isn’t talented – it’s just that they’ve all seemed to hit a massive wall until the past few games. Given proper time to acclimate to not only the home stadium, but also the division pitching, club house and coaches, I have faith that a hitting core that includes Kemp/Ethier/Gonzalez/Ramirez/Crawford and the law firm of Ellis & Ellis will be one of the better lineups in the National League. I have very little pause in even typing that sentence.

Oddly enough, even though it’s been the pitching staff that’s kept the team afloat amidst their hitting taking paid time off, the Dodgers definitely will need starting help going forward. As I wrote, the team certainly has a lot of guys that can hold up the back end of the rotation, including Lilly, Stephen Fife, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang (the last two performing admirably in Billingsley’s absence). However, these are the type of hurlers that are going to keep the team in the game rather than truly own the opposition. Looking at 2013, LA will need to enlist at least one topline starter to come closer to ensuring a spot in the postseason. The aforementioned Marcum, Greinke, Haren or Peavy could all be great fits, depending on the conditions and contract demands. The Dodgers, much to the delight of patient and tired fans all over the southland, finally have the capital backing them up where money no longer seems to be an obstacle. Even with the massive mountain of dough the Dodgers owe to their new roster additions, it won’t stop Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and company from throwing a laughable amount of cash at any problem they see in front of them.

Of course this could all change with time. Perhaps Gonzalez is the powerless singles machine that he’s been for some of his LA tenure. Maybe Beckett will decline steeply in the offseason, a casualty of Fatburger and Roscoe’s. Carl Crawford might be completely junked. There’s a chance that the two guys they traded to Boston, Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster, turn into Pedro Martinez parts II and III. Yes, this trade could turn into one of the most massive busts ever…down the road. But right now, barring any dramatic change in performance from what we’ve seen or could reasonably expect, I don’t see how anyone could intelligently say that this trade was a failure for the Dodgers. They might not be the 2012 World Series champions, but just because they didn’t win this year doesn’t automatically mean they’re going to fail for years to come…the exact reason why this trade was made. Considering the future market for impact hitting first basemen and top line starters, as well as the Dodgers’ bottomless pockets, trashing this trade is silly. Don’t make yourself look stupid.

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