When was the last time the Boston Red Sox headed into a season with the playoffs a distant possibility? That seems to be the direction the club is going after a shocking blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday.
Out the door go disgruntled and ineffective pitcher Josh Beckett, who helped the team win a World Series title in 2007 but is not the same pitcher he once was; outfielder Carl Crawford, who needs Tommy John surgery on an injured elbow; reserve infielder Nick Punto, an afterthought in a deal like this; and star slugger Adrian Gonzalez, signed to such fanfare after the 2010 season but not providing the same production as he did in a brilliant 2011.
The loss of Gonzalez alone is difficult to take. But that was the price Boston had to pay to shed more than $250 million in contracts -- with the team unlikely ever to recoup its significant investments in the declining Crawford and Beckett if they stayed.
Now the problem: Who is on the roster next season? The Red Sox added some nice prospects in the deal. Pitcher Rubby De La Rosa is a power arm making his way back from Tommy John surgery last year and does project as a top-of-the-rotation starter. Allen Webster, another pitcher, has had a nice year at Double-A in the Los Angeles system. He could be a mid-rotation starter or at worst a solid reliever out of the bullpen. Infielders Jerry Sands and Ivan De Jesus project as quality part-time players.
But it's unclear whether either pitcher will contribute next season. Boston still has talent at third base (Will Middlebrooks), second base (Dustin Pedroia) and center field (Jacoby Ellsbury). And maybe David Ortiz has one productive year left in him as a 37-year-old designated hitter. But without a rebound year from pitcher Jon Lester, none of that will matter. The rotation just hasn't been good enough in 2012, and the free agent market is weak.
In the end, Boston, which has had just five losing seasons since 1966 and none since 1997, is willing to take a step back to rebuild its big league roster for the first time in a while.
- Brian McNally