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The Nick Punto trade, nine years later

The 2012 Red Sox had high expectations, which came crashing down quickly. Money had been invested, a new manager had taken over and the ghosts of 2011 looked to be in the rearview. The O/U win total was set at 87.5 for a team that was coming off a monumental collapse along with the divorce from arguably the greatest manager in team history.

They hung around .500 through the trade deadline and there were hopes that the team could get healthy and make a late season push. However, a 9-20 August proved to be the low point of the team’s season, one that never had hope of getting back on track after that. After standing pat at the July 31st trade deadline, something had to happen if the team was going to move forward in years to come.

That, kids, is when the Nick Punto trade happened.

Wanting to free up cap space for the upcoming offseason, new General Manager Ben Cherington made the biggest splash of his short tenure. Adrián González and Carl Crawford were two huge free agent signings before the 2011 season. Josh Beckett was a fan favourite and a consistent member of the starting rotation since 2006. Then there was obviously the legend himself, Nick Punto. Who, in a trade with three All-Stars, ironically became the face and namesake of the trade in Red Sox nation.

Beckett was signed through 2014, Crawford through 2017 and González through 2018. All were making substantial amounts of money that would’ve handicapped the ability of the Red Sox to fix a number of glaring holes in the roster. In order to alleviate that problem, Cherington shipped the trio to Los Angeles where the Dodgers were looking for some veteran players to help make a push for the team’s first World Series title since 1988.

In return, the Red Sox received James Loney, along with prospects Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Jerry Sands and Ivan De Jesus Jr. Loney was a free agent at the end of the 2012 season, and the four prospects didn’t amount to much else besides future trade bait in some minor moves. The deal essentially ended up just being a massive salary dump.

I was just a 14 year old kid at the time, and I remember being super bummed that Beckett was gone, along with two players who Red Sox fans had gotten really hyped about acquiring just a year and a half prior. It was hard to conceptualize the move, as the Red Sox being sellers wasn’t something I was used to in my lifetime. I had no idea how quickly this move would pay off in Boston.

Not a year later, the money was used to bring in future fan favourites like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara and Jonny Gomes. A few months after that, the Red Sox were back on top. Something not even the most optimistic fan could have predicted so soon after the big move.

2013 was such an important year for the city of Boston, and none of what happened on the field would’ve been possible without the big risk that Ben Cherington took on August 25th 2012. A move that really soured the fanbase at the time, ended up being the main reason why the team was able to make such a quick turnaround. A team that is used to throwing money at their problems to make things better, took a step back, and actually moved all the money away to make more efficient moves with said cash.

Having the money off the book immediately was the big selling point and like I said, the biggest reason behind the team’s 2013 success. However, I believe the trade played a huge role in the Red Sox winning in 2018 as well.

Not only would González have still been on the books, but Crawford and Beckett would’ve been taking up crucial playing time from future key contributors. Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Eduardo Rodriguez, to name a few, all benefitted from the 2012 trade by being able to come up and establish themselves in 2014 through 2016, and go on to play huge roles throughout the 2018 campaign.

It might be crazy to say that one move instigated two World Series championships for Boston, especially one over 6 years after the trade, but to me that’s how things played out. The Dodgers didn’t win anything with these players, even though all three major names did actually revitalize their careers in Los Angeles after the move.

It’s tough to say the Red Sox won a trade in which they received no integral pieces in return, but they certainly got all they wanted out of it and even more. The Nick Punto trade remains the best move Ben Cherington made here, even when compared to the other elite trades and signings he made.

Photo Credit: Boston Herald

For the Dodgers, the new ownership group showed that they were willing to field a winning team no matter what the cost. This trade has had a continuous impact for both teams for nine years, and deserves to be analyzed from both sides.

The Dodgers had coveted Adrian Gonzalez long before they traded for him back in 2012, but with the bankruptcy of former owner Frank McCourt, the Dodgers were not in a position to buy in free agency. With the sale of the team in May of that year, the new ownership group had a desire to win, no matter what the cost was. The opportunity to acquire a top first baseman was worth taking on the salaries that Boston wanted to dump. The contracts of Josh Beckett (4 years, $68 million from 2011-2014) and Carl Crawford (7 years, $142 million from 2011-2017) were starting to look poor for Boston and they were willing to trade Gonzalez if it meant more payroll flexibility.

When the trade was finalized, the Red Sox had sent over a quarter of a billion dollars worth of salaries to the Dodgers, and the new owners were giddy. This was the first big acquisition under the Guggenheim Baseball Management ownership group, and it was a drastic departure from the Frank McCourt days. The Dodgers were in the midst of a pennant race, three games behind the hated Giants for first in the NL West and 1.5 games behind St. Louis Cardinals in the newly minted second wild card spot when that trade was made. While Gonzalez (slashing .297/.344/.441 for a .785 OPS) and Beckett (2.93 ERA in 43 IP) were able to provide an immediate impact, the Dodgers stumbled down the stretch, finishing just two games out of a playoff spot. 

2013 marked a new era of spending for the Dodgers, as they would sport a $216 million Opening Day payroll that season. Since that season, they have been at the top or near the top of the Opening Day payroll charts, and the owners have been willing to spend money to field a winning team. The Dodgers have won every division title from 2013 to 2020, with 5 NLCS appearances, 3 NL pennants, and one World Series title in that span. 

Nick Punto would eventually leave the Dodgers in free agency after the 2013 season. Josh Beckett would retire at the end of the 2014 season when his contract expired. Carl Crawford was released in 2016, and the Dodgers paid out the rest of his contract. Adrian Gonzalez would get hurt in 2017, opening the door for a young first baseman in the Dodgers’ farm system named Cody Bellinger to take over the position. Bellinger would hit 39 home runs and win the NL Rookie of the Year award. With a new first baseman and one year left in his contract the Dodgers would trade away Adrian Gonzalez in a salary dump to Atlanta. The Dodgers would send Gonzalez, Charlie Culberson, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and $4.5 million to the Braves in exchange for an old friend in Matt Kemp.

When Kemp returned to the Dodgers, there were rumors that he would not make the team out of spring training. Instead, he would be the starting left fielder on Opening Day in 2018. In the first two months of the season, the Dodgers struggled out of the gate, yet Kemp would post a .920 OPS and 150 wRC+, and would help keep them afloat during their early struggles. While Kemp would slump in the middle of the season, he would catch fire down the stretch, helping the Dodgers win the NL West division title over the Rockies with similar numbers that month. 

With Kemp rehabilitating his value during a 2018 season that would see him selected as an All-Star for the first time since 2012, the Dodgers decided that they could trade him away for good value. In December of 2018, Los Angeles traded Kemp, along with Kyle Farmer, Yasiel Puig, and Alex Wood to Cincinnati for Homer Bailey, Jeter Downs, and Josiah Gray. Bailey was released immediately upon being traded, and a significant amount of salary was shedded and prospect depth was gained in this trade for LA.

The Dodgers would win a franchise record 106 games in 2019, but would lose in the NLDS to the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals. They made offers to the major free agents that offseason in Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Anthony Rendon but did not sign any of them. However, a former MVP outfielder in Boston would become available later that offseason, with the Red Sox getting a new front office that wanted to have financial flexibility. Mookie Betts was due to reach free agency after the 2020 season, and had yet to sign an extension, leading to rumors that he could be traded. The Dodgers would pull the trigger and trade for Betts in February 2020. The official trade would send Alex Verdugo, Connor Wong, and Jeter Downs to Boston in exchange for Betts and David Price. 

Betts would sign a 12 year, $365 million extension before the 2020 season, and would have an MVP-caliber season (finishing second in NL MVP voting). The Dodgers would steamroll through the shortened 2020 season, and after a scare against the Braves in the NLCS, would reach the World Series. Betts would prove to be the final piece that the Dodgers needed, as the Dodgers won the World Series with an .898 OPS, 2 home runs, and 4 stolen bases.

Entering the 2021 season, the Dodgers were the odds-on favorites to win the World Series, acquiring the reigning NL Cy Young winner in Trevor Bauer to strengthen one of the best pitching staffs in the majors. For the first three months of the season, Bauer would be excellent for the Dodgers, but allegations of sexual assault would sideline him at the beginning of July. Along with an injury to Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers needed starting pitching. The Nationals were willing to trade players away, falling out of playoff contention earlier that month. The Dodgers would use their prospect depth to get three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and All-Star shortstop Trea Turner. The official trade saw the Dodgers send Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz, Gerardo Carillo, and Donovan Casey for those two players.

It remains to be seen what happens to the 2021 Dodgers, but the Adrian Gonzalez trade has paid dividends on multiple levels for them. Through trades that the Dodgers conducted, the front office turned an aging Adrian Gonzalez (among other notable players) into Mookie Betts, David Price, Max Scherzer, and Trea Turner. All four of those players are making an impact for the Dodgers, and some will continue to have an impact for years to come. The bigger impact came with the Dodgers’ payroll, as ownership has shown a willingness to spend in order to put a winning product on the field, and that all started with taking on the unwanted salaries from the Red Sox on August 25, 2012.

John Principe

Writer, Editor and Social Media Director at Diamond Digest

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