FORT MYERS, Fla. — For the Red Sox, the largest benefit of their landmark trade with the Dodgers in 2012 was extricating the franchise from the burdensome contracts given to Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez.
The $264 million saved allowed the Sox a clean slate to remake their roster and earn back the affection of a disgruntled fan base.
The five players Boston received in the trade were practically incidental to the larger mission of the deal. Now, 18 months later, only two remain.
Ivan DeJesus, James Loney, and Jerry Sands are forgotten footnotes. But Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster still have the opportunity to make that trade an even more successful one for the Sox.
Webster, who turned 24 this month, is high on the list of young starters the Sox believe will serve as depth for the coming season before assuming more prominent roles.
De La Rosa, who turns 25 next month, has fully recovered from elbow surgery in 2012. The Sox hope his days as a bright prospect are not past.
“We’re Red Sox now, the trade was a long time ago,” Webster said Friday. “It’s a lot more comfortable for me now and I’m sure that’s the case for Rubby.”
Webster was one of the surprises of spring training a year ago, impressing with his fastball and a supercharged sinker that produced weak contact. The Sox called him up from Triple A Pawtucket to make a start in April that went well.
But seven other appearances were discouragingly shaky. Webster appeared nervous, unable to command his pitches or summon the velocity he showed in the minors.
In all, he allowed 37 hits (seven home runs) and 18 walks over 30⅓ innings. An 8.60 earned run average was the result.
“It was good that I got to the big leagues, but I didn’t show people what I could do,” Webster said. “That part was tough.”
With Pawtucket, Webster was 8-4 with a 3.60 ERA and struck out 116 over 105 innings. But 43 walks and 16 hit batters were troubling. Poor control was a problem in the five games he started in the Dominican Winter League.
Manager John Farrell said the Sox haven’t lost any faith in Webster.
“If we were looking at Allen Webster walking into this camp coming off the year he had just solely in Triple A you’d say, ‘Wow, this is another major step toward a very good major league pitcher,’ ” Farrell said. “He went through some challenges last year for the first time. It shouldn’t, and it doesn’t, taint our feel for what his capabilities are. He experienced the big leagues for the first time.”
Webster is competing with pitchers such as Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, and Henry Owens to get called up when a rotation need arises.
“I need to be consistent,” he said. “I know I have the pitches.”
De La Rosa has thrown only 107⅓ innings over the last two seasons because of the surgery and subsequent rehabilitation. He appeared in 11 games for the Sox last season, all in relief and most in low-leverage situations. He allowed seven runs on 15 hits over 11⅓ innings.
With Pawtucket, De La Rosa had a 4.26 ERA. He was tough to hit but also tough to pin down because of control problems.
“The stuff is there,” said catcher Dan Butler, who worked with De La Rosa in Pawtucket. “Nobody questions that.”
De La Rosa pitched twice in relief in winter ball with poor results. But the month he spent at the Red Sox complex in the Dominican Republic led to a decrease in body fat and more confidence.
“I feel it on the mound,” De La Rosa said. “My pitches are better. This year is going to be better for me.”
Because De La Rosa throws hard and has a good changeup, he profiles to be a potential late-inning reliever. But the Sox are still figuring that out.
“It’s going to be dependent on who else is on the staff and where the opportunities lie. We feel comfortable if he is put in the bullpen that he certainly has plenty of physical stuff to succeed in that role,” Farrell said.
“Long term with Rubby, we have not closed the door on one role or the other. Because when you grade out his stuff, he projects as a starter. We’re not limiting his role at this point.”
For now, De La Rosa is down to start in Pawtucket in what will be a loaded rotation.
“The intent is to get him back on the track that he was pre-Tommy John surgery. He’ll go into this season with no restrictions if he’s in a starter’s role. Now it’s a matter of going out to compete for a spot,” Farrell said.
De La Rosa said the Sox don’t know how good he can be.
“This season will be the real me,” he said. “I’m healthy and that’s important. I want to be a starter and I know I have to show them that. This is the year for me.”