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The Boston Globe

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Bob Ryan

Sometimes, MLB trades can be tricky

Garrulous, eminently lovable, wouldn’t-hurt-a-flea Lou Gorman had to hear it for the remainder of his born days, as they say.

“You’re the *&@#$% idiot who traded Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen!”

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Well, yes, he did. On Aug. 30, 1990, Red Sox general manager Lou Gorman traded 22-year-old prospect Jeff Bagwell for 37-year-old reliever Larry Andersen.

Bagwell played 15 seasons for the Houston Astros. He hit 449 home runs. He had a career OPS of .948. He won a Rookie of the Year award. He won an MVP award. He stands a reasonable chance of someday making it into the Hall of Fame.

Andersen was gone from Boston at the end of the year.

Stupid move?

Nope, not necessarily. Andersen was obtained because Jeff Reardon was hurt and the Red Sox had an acute need for a reliever in a year when they had a good chance of making it to the playoffs. Andersen was known for two things: 1. a killer slider. 2. an uncanny ability to belch on command (he was an unforgettable locker room presence).

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I grant you that Andersen’s primary numbers (an ERA of 1.23 and a WHIP of 0.955 in 15 games) exaggerate his contribution somewhat (he had one save), but I once did a game-by-game analysis and concluded that the Red Sox could not have won the division that year without Andersen’s help.

Yes, they were swept by a vastly superior Oakland team in the ALCS, but does that mean Gorman didn’t have a responsibility to maximize his team’s opportunity to win back in August? The Sox did win the division with Andersen’s invaluable aid. I’m sure no one in power was thinking, “Hell, we’ve got no shot against the A’s, so why don’t we just let Toronto have the division?”

And there was one more thing.

Bagwell was moved to first base by the Astros, but at the time Bagwell was a third baseman, and the Red Sox had another significant third base prospect in Scott Cooper, who did, in fact, represent the Red Sox in both the 1993 and 1994 All-Star Games — granted, as an every-team-has-to-have-a-player selection.

Cooper’s presence clearly factored into Gorman’s decision. Trust me, Bagwell was not considered to be a super-duper prospect. What he did in Houston was a surprise to everyone.

The idea of trading a prospect to get instant help is an honorable one. Perhaps the granddaddy of ’em all occurred in 1987, when the Detroit Tigers, locked in a battle for AL East supremacy with the Blue Jays, and in need of a starter, traded a 20-year-old pitching prospect for a grizzly, distinctly unsociable, soon-to-be-37-year-old righthander named Doyle Alexander.

Alexander went 9-0, 1.53 down the stretch before imploding in the ALCS. But the Tigers had gotten what they wished for. Absent Alexander, they would not have made the playoffs. They didn’t win either the pennant or the World Series, but general manager Bill Lajoie had given his team a legitimate shot to compete.

The kid?

You probably remember him. John Smoltz was his name. He won 213 games for Atlanta and he saved 154 others. When his name appears on the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot, I doubt I’ll be the only one voting for him.

In each of these cases, both teams got what they wanted. Each team trading for a necessary veteran made it to the postseason. Each team receiving a prospect received a keeper. Nice to do business with ya.

I think you can see where we’re going with this.

On July 30, the Red Sox took part in a three-way deal with the White Sox and Tigers, trading away 23-year-old shortstop Jose Iglesias and receiving as their part of the deal 32-year-old righthander Jake Peavy (who, it should be noted, is infinitely more charming than the 1987 Doyle Alexander).

It seems that since Peavy had an unsatisfactory start in Game 4 of the ALCS and Iglesias keeps making plays we have seldom if ever seen before, some frantic fans are already referring to Ben Cherington as “the *&@#$% idiot who traded away Jose Iglesias.”

Putting aside the fact that Peavy’s regular-season performance (4-1 with five no-decisions) was undeniably helpful to the division-winning cause, the fact is that Jake Peavy vs. Jose Iglesias will not be the ongoing issue. Peavy may very well make a meaningful Red Sox contribution in 2014, or he could be traded for something good, but whatever happens will not be the point.

The point is that it will never be a matter of Iglesias vs. Peavy. It will be an ongoing matter of Iglesias vs. Xander Bogaerts. There is zero possibility that Cherington would have sent Iglesias anywhere had he not had Bogaerts in reserve.

You think he didn’t know what he had in Iglesias? You think he didn’t know that, at best, Iglesias is going to be the next Omar Vizquel (absent the switch-hitting), who, believe it or not, finished with 2,877 hits to go along with the 11 Gold Gloves, and at worst, he will be the 21st century Mark Belanger?

You think Cherington or anyone else who had anything to do with the signing and/or development of the gifted Cuban was remotely surprised to see some of the things Iglesias has done in the past week, most notably that play on Thursday night when he ran from shortstop in Comerica Park to downtown Saginaw to rob Big Papi of a bloop single?

They knew what they were losing, all right.

But they also believed they could sacrifice someone who may out-Ozzie the Wizard and out-Omar Omar because in Bogaerts they may have the next great all-around thing at shortstop. What is there not to like?

The spotlight is on, and Bogaerts has been totally unfazed. He may be only a newly minted 21, but he’s calm and assured at the plate, and there is pop in his bat.

And though it’s only a little thing, what I loved was the way he handled that grounder the other night with men on base, delaying a count to get set before delivering an absolutely perfect throw to Dustin Pedroia that made completing the double play a breeze.

Yes, he had a terrible base-running gaffe, too, but I will wager that will be the last one of those we’ll ever see. Oh, and please note that he has been playing out of position in the most important games of the season.

Ben Cherington made that trade in order to get a needed pitcher, yes, but also because, as great a player as Jose Iglesias can be, Xander Bogaerts might turn out to be substantially better.

None of this is an exact science. It’s all assumptions and projections. The Houston Astros would have been happy to get three-quarters of the production they got from Jeff Bagwell. Do not tell me the Braves thought for one millisecond they were trading for a Hall of Famer when they acquired John Smoltz.

Who knows? The Red Sox may have traded a Hall of Famer in order to open up a job for another one. Guess we’ll have to check back in 15 years or so.

Bob Ryan's column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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