The Nick Punto Trade With Boston, One Year Later

August 23, 2013 at 11:59 am | Posted in Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto | Leave a comment

punto_2013-08-05

A year ago tomorrow, I was riding the bus to Boston, of all places, and freaking out about the enormous trade that was coming together with the Red Sox that would bring the Dodgers Nick Punto, three other guys, and more than $250 million in contract responsibilities, all while sending Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster out of town. The next day, I managed to put some more coherent thoughts to it:

So how am I feeling about it today? I think Adrian Gonzalez is going to be an incredible fit in LA, especially considering that reports of his demise in Boston seem overblown (he was outstanding last year and has been very good for much of this year after a slow start) and that he never seemed to want to leave Southern California in the first place. It’s a high price to pay, but if he is what we think he is – and don’t forget, there was little available in the first base market next year, so if you’re spending money, this is how you do it – and the team becomes a consistent contender, I think it’ll be a price we can live with.

We may still be a day or two short of a full year later, but as the Red Sox come in to town to face the Dodgers tonight in what many expect may be a World Series preview, it’s an appropriate time to look back. Today at ESPN, I offer the opinion that it’s been a win/win, one that neither side would take back. It’s behind the paywall, and a man’s got to eat, so I won’t excerpt much of it here, other than to say that this is how it ends:

The Dodgers wouldn’t be in this position without Gonzalez, and the Red Sox wouldn’t be here with him. It’s hard to think of a better outcome for both sides than that.

Let’s take a look at what’s happened with a year’s worth of knowledge on our side.

To Los Angeles

Josh Beckett (0.4 WAR with Dodgers)
We tried our best to both not get bummed by Beckett’s declining velocity while also not get sucked in by the not-at-all-representative 2.93 ERA he put up in seven starts for the Dodgers last year, all while hoping he could merely be a fourth starter. Instead, Beckett was atrocious in eight starts this year (somehow while missing more bats than he had in years) and was eventually lost for the season after undergoing surgery to relieve Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. He’s under contract for 2014, but his role is unclear.

Carl Crawford (2.3 WAR with Dodgers)
Obviously the biggest question mark of the deal, not only because of how awful he was with the Red Sox, but because of the Tommy John surgery he underwent just beforehand, Crawford has been a pleasant surprise. After fixing his batting stance, he filled the long-time hole at leadoff and was arguably the team’s best hitter for the first six weeks, though he’s since dealt with both slumps and hamstring injury. Overall, he’s hit .289/.340/.413 with plus defense, and while he’s certainly not what he was at his peak in Tampa Bay and terrifies me about how the rest of his contract will play out, he’s been a net positive for this team in 2013. Considering how much uncertainty he brought with him, I’m guessing we all take that.

Adrian Gonzalez (3.2 WAR with Dodgers)
The whole point of the trade for the Dodgers was to get Gonzalez, of course, and he’s been worth it, though it depends on how you look at it. On one hand, his .346 wOBA is the same as it was last year, each of which is tied for the worst of his career. On the other hand, the last Dodger first baseman to have a more valuable season than he is was Eric Karros, way back in 1999, and he was one of the few productive Dodgers over the first two months of the season. He is, according to WAR, the seventh most productive first baseman in baseball this year, and I can’t really complain about that — especially when Joey Votto & Prince Fielder make well over $200m and the alternatives were…. who, exactly?

Nick Punto (1.8 WAR with Dodgers)
We derisively call this “the Nick Punto” deal, because it’s fun to imagine Ned Colletti insisting on adding yet another gritty veteran infielder or he’d kill the deal entirely, but Punto has been an asset in Los Angeles. Punto has played far more than anyone expected he would as injuries & ineffectiveness hit second, third, and shortstop, and he was the choice over Dee Gordon & Justin Sellers when Hanley Ramirez missed recent time with a shoulder injury. He was valuable, too, hitting .340/.427/.420 through May 25. That was never, ever, ever, going to last, and it didn’t — he’s just .199/.265/.270 since — though he’s at least provided value on defense.

To Boston

Ivan De Jesus, Jr. (-0.3 WAR with Red Sox)
De Jesus was absolutely never going to get a shot with the Dodgers, fairly or not, then struck out in six times in eight hitless appearances for Boston. After the season, he was traded to Pittsburgh as part of the Joel Hanrahan / Mark Melancon deal, and while he’s hit well with Triple-A Indianapolis (.323/.383/.462), he hasn’t seen any time in the big leagues. Heading into his age-27 season next year, he’s running out of time to make a career.

92topps_rubbydelarosaRubby De La Rosa (-0.2 WAR with Red Sox)
It’s safe to say that this was the part that hurt the worst, because De La Rosa had been a very highly regarded prospect with the Dodgers before blowing out his elbow in 2011, and he’d made it back for one appearance with the team before the trade. So far, RDLR has had a pretty rough season with Boston, making only five big league appearances (all in relief) while struggling to find his control in Triple-a (5.08 BB/9 in 21 games, all but one as a starter). As we remember, control was never his strong suit, and guys coming off Tommy John surgery often need some time to get it back.

James Loney (-0.1 WAR with Red Sox)
Our favorite punching bag hit just .230/.264/.310 in 106 plate appearances for the Red Sox, somehow contributing even less than he had with the Dodgers. That earned him a mere $2m on a one-year deal from Tampa Bay over the winter… where he’s now hitting .311/.360/.439 and has nearly the exact same wOBA and WAR that Gonzalez does. Baseball is a weird, weird, game sometimes. But I think we all know that for whatever reason, he was never going to succeed like that in Los Angeles.

Jerry Sands (n/a for Red Sox)
Man, remember when we all thought Sands was going to be, well, not a star, but at least a quality major leaguer? Sands never played with Boston since he was a “player to be named later” after the season, then went with De Jesus to Pittsburgh. In 99 games for Triple-A Indianapolis, he’s hit .212/.318/.340 with seven homers. What happened?

Allen Webster (-0.3 WAR with Red Sox)
Like De La Rosa, losing Webster hurt, especially with how much hype he got as he impressed during spring training. But while he’s been good in Triple-A, he’s struggled terribly in six starts for the Red Sox, putting up a 9.57 (!) ERA with massive homer problems. He’s still only 23, of course, and has plenty of time to work things out.

Of course, it was never really about the players for the Red Sox, it was about changing the culture and clearing the bad payroll — which they have done successfully, as WEEI’s Alex Speier goes into painstaking detail about here. As you’d expect, the Dodgers are better off in the short-term for the deal, while the long-term is uncertain; the Red Sox are definitely better off in the long-term, but surprisingly have been far improved this year, too.

I still wish the Dodgers didn’t have to give up De La Rosa and Webster, because it’s hard to imagine that the Red Sox really would have balked at, say, Chris Reed & Chris Withrow, if they were getting rid of all that money. Still, the Dodgers did at least hang on to Zach Lee & Joc Pederson, so while it’s not a perfect trade… it’s one I’m not unhappy about a year later. Considering the massive risk involved, that might be all we can ask for.

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