Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto were on a private jet headed for Los Angeles and the heat of the pennant race when Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington sat down for a press conference at Fenway Park Saturday afternoon.
The Red Sox had just completed one of the most significant trades in baseball history, sending Beckett, Gonzalez, Punto and injured outfielder Carl Crawford to the Dodgers for first baseman James Loney and four prospects.
The first question was the most obvious one: Why did the Red Sox make this shocking move?
“We recognize that we are not who we want to be right now,” said Cherington, whose first year as GM has been a memorable one for reasons good and bad. “We felt like in order to be the team that we want to be on the field, we needed to make more than cosmetic changes.
“To build the team that we need, that the fans deserve, that we want, required more of a bold move to give us an opportunity to really reshape the roster, reshape the team.”
The Red Sox also sent the Dodgers $11 million, only four percent of the $275.69 million owed to Beckett, Crawford, Gonzalez and Punto.
Gonzalez is signed through 2018, Crawford until 2017 and Beckett and Punto until 2014. In one swoop, the Red Sox exercised their three highest-paid players and can now rebuild a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008.
“The key is that we are absolutely committed to building the best team we can in 2013 and beyond and we’re going to do that in the most disciplined way possible,” Cherington said. “When we’ve been at our best we’ve made good decisions, disciplined decisions [and found] value, whether it’s in the free agent market or trade market.”
Some of the money could be spent in the coming weeks. The Red Sox are interested in retaining outfielder Cody Ross, who was signed to one-year deal and went into Saturday’s game with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs. A new deal could come before the end of the season.
“I hope we can work something out,” Ross said. “I’d like to stay.”
David Ortiz, who is seeking a two-tear deal, could benefit in the brave new world of the Red Sox. His power, along with his presence in the clubhouse, remains significant and the odds of the Red Sox retaining him have increased.
The Red Sox, Cherington said, remain committed to a “significant” payroll.
The genesis of the deal came weeks ago when Dodgers GM Ned Colletti targeted Gonzalez as the player he believed could boost the Dodgers into the playoffs this season and carry the franchise beyond.
“We’ve been talking to the Dodgers all year,” Cherington said, noting that Los Angeles was interested in Kevin Youkilis in June. The teams also spoke before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
“There wasn’t any one moment,” Cherington said. “It was a process that started earlier in the year and involved a lot of conversations and a lot of ideas going back and forth.”
Red Sox team president Larry Lucchino prodded the deal along in recent days, dealing directly with his Dodgers counterpart, Stan Kasten.
The Dodgers felt so strongly about Gonzalez that they took on the underachieving Beckett and Crawford, who had Tommy John elbow surgery on Thursday.
The Dodgers also gave up two of their top pitching prospects in righthanders Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster. The Sox also obtained first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands and infielder Ivan DeJesus Jr.
Gonzalez was in the Los Angeles lineup against the Marlins, batting fourth. Beckett is scheduled to start on Monday at Colorado.
Loney will be added to the Red Sox roster on Sunday. DeJesus was optioned to Triple A Pawtucket and Webster will report to Double A Portland.
Sands and De La Rosa will remain in the Dodgers organization until the end of the season, at which point the trade will officially be completed. Because they are on the 40-man roster of the Dodgers and did not clear waivers, they cannot yet be traded.
The Red Sox are headed to a third consecutive season out of the playoffs and have earned a reputation for having poor team chemistry. Manager Bobby Valentine flatly said “yes” when asked if the Red Sox needed a change in their clubhouse.
“Just didn't feel like it mixed as well as it should," he said.
Cherington said the move was a baseball decision more than an attempt to change the personality of the team.
“The bottom line is we haven’t won enough games,” he said. “That goes back to last September. We just haven’t performed on the field. … This is not about the four players we gave up, anything they did particularly wrong. We just haven’t performed as a team.”
There are long-term dangers in making such a move. The Red Sox traded for Gonzalez and signed Crawford in December 2010. They were traded only 21 months later. It is unusual for a team to trade such prominent players so quickly and that could leave high-profile free agents hesitant to sign with the Red Sox.
“It is something we considered,” Cherington said. “If we who we want to be on the field, off the field, we will be a great place for players to be. If we get back to being the team we want to be, players are going to want to be here. This is still a great place to play. The highs are really high when things are going well. When they’re not, it can be tough. That’s why it’s so important to get back to where we want to be.”
Via Twitter, Beckett, Gonzalez and Punto sent out messages thanking Red Sox fans for their support.
“Even in the tough times I ran into so many wonderful people that were so awesome. I'm greatly appreciative to all of you,” Beckett wrote.
Had Beckett expressed such sentiments while a member of the Red Sox, perhaps he still would be playing for them. Instead, a new era is at hand for the franchise.
“We’re excited about the chance this gives us to build the next great Red Sox team,” Cherington said.