LOS ANGELES — One year ago today, the Red Sox were on the verge of completing a nine-player trade with the Dodgers that stunned all of baseball.
Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez — three All-Star players with enormous contracts — cleared waivers and were sent to Los Angeles in return for a package of prospects. The new owners of the Dodgers were so eager to prove their credibility that they absorbed $264 million in payroll obligations.
The last-place Red Sox, a sullen bunch of underachievers, suddenly had a bright future. General manager Ben Cherington called it an opportunity to build the franchise’s next great team.
In Gonzalez, the Dodgers had a Mexican-American star they could build a marketing campaign around. That Crawford was still recovering from elbow surgery and wouldn’t be able to play until the following season and Beckett was on the decline didn’t matter.
“I always say I’m not surprised by anything that happens in baseball,” said Shane Victorino, then a Dodger and now one of the Red Sox. “But that was surprising.”
A year later, there are no regrets on either coast. The Red Sox arrive at Dodger Stadium Friday in first place in the American League East. The Dodgers lead the National League West and have captivated Southern California by winning 45 of their last 55 games.
“I don’t know how you can’t say it hasn’t worked for both teams,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “This is one of those deals that helped both sides, clearly.”
Farrell, who was managing the Toronto Blue Jays at the time, couldn’t believe that details of the trade did not leak out before an announcement was made. The amount of money involved also shocked him.
As the Red Sox’ former pitching coach, Farrell knew the franchise had lost its way with a series of ill-considered free agent signings, the ouster of manager Terry Francona, and the hiring of the polarizing Bobby Valentine. That so many mistakes could be wiped away at once didn’t seem possible.
“Ben was very specific and clear on what he thought needed to be done,” said Farrell. “If that trade was pushing the reset button, well, he pushed it with both hands.”
The Red Sox, bereft of talent and hope, staggered through the end of the 2012 season and lost 93 games, their most losses in nearly 50 years. Valentine and his incompatible coaching staff were fired and a new roster was constructed largely via free agency.
“It’s not fair to blame Adrian, Carl, and Josh, because it wasn’t their fault by any means,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “But we needed to make changes. It was a rough year for everybody and something had to be done.”
In Los Angeles, the trade was another unexpected twist in what was a tumultuous summer for Victorino. But one that ultimately proved fruitful.
A popular and productive player for eight seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, Victorino was traded to the Dodgers July 31. Less than a month later, he knew he would be on the move again.
“Once they picked up Crawford, I mean, how many outfielders can you have?” Victorino said. “The game is a business and I knew I’d be affected.
“I wanted to stay there because that’s where I was. I had turned that chapter in Philly and I was in LA. But when they made that trade, I understood what was going on.”
In the back of his mind, Victorino wondered whether the Red Sox would be interested in him. They were, and signed Victorino to a three-year, $39 million deal to play right field.
With the money saved by trading Beckett, Crawford, and Gonzalez, the Red Sox also signed righthander Ryan Dempster, shortstop Stephen Drew, outfielder Jonny Gomes, first baseman Mike Napoli, backup catcher David Ross, and reliever Koji Uehara.
Outside of Ross, who has been limited to 24 games because of injuries, all have been contributing players to a 75-54 team.
“The biggest thing was the number of holes we had,” assistant general manager Mike Hazen said. “If we kept things status quo, we wouldn’t have been able to sign some of the guys we did. There wouldn’t have been the flexibility to sign the volume of guys we did.
“There was more than one issue. We didn’t feel like we were a piece away, we felt like we were multiple pieces away. We redistributed the money in multiple areas.”
When the new-look Red Sox gathered for spring training, third baseman Will Middlebrooks suspected they would exceed expectations.
“We had guys who knew how to win and could set the right tone,” he said. “It’s hard to play in a place like Boston and they found a bunch of guys who were good players and could handle the market.”
The salary dump put the Red Sox well under the payroll threshold that would trigger the competitive-balance tax. That allowed the Red Sox to pick up righthander Jake Peavy — and the $19.7 million he had remaining on his contract — at the trade deadline last month.
“I don’t know if we make that trade otherwise,” Hazen said. “When Clay [Buchholz] went down, we were able to get Jake and plug him into the rotation.”
Peavy will start against the Dodgers Sunday.
“It’s kind of amazing when you look at everything that happened because of that trade,” Peavy said.
Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who credits Gonzalez with helping him develop a better approach at the plate against lefthanded pitchers, said the year went by quickly.
Ortiz was on the disabled list at the time of the trade, watching from the sidelines as the season unraveled.
“It seemed like it happened yesterday,” Ortiz said. “But I’ll tell you what, the way they’re playing, it tells you something. Things got better over there, things got better over here. We are making them look like geniuses.”