Can you handle it, Red Sox fans?
No, not the immediate aftermath of an amazing, late-season blockbuster trade that sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto to the Dodgers. There is such glee around New England this weekend over the addition through subtraction that Bill James is said to be creating a new sabermetric just to quantify the euphoria.
We're talking about the rebuilding here. Granted the new two-wild card setup deals almost everyone into the playoff chase through the end of July. We're talking about a serious level of patience and commitment, maybe two, three years of patience and commitment, to build a sustainable winner. We're talking about not falling back into the trap of the spend-like-a-drunken-sailor final days of Theo Epstein that led to such high expectations and low returns.
Can you handle that, Red Sox fans? Can you handle the potential sight of Beckett leaning in for the sign against Derek Jeter or Josh Hamilton in the 2012 World Series? Could happen, you know. The Dodgers are mind-bogglingly serious about going for it all now. For Red Sox fans, the joy of riding Beckett out of town and ridding Crawford's onerous contract has ridden in on a chicken wing and a prayer. But that joy could lead to a serious sting in October if, say, Gonzalez, a great fit ethnically, offensively and defensively for L.A. and the Dodgers, ropes a double past Ichiro or Hamilton to win the world championship.
Can you handle that, Red Sox fans? And if it does, will you still be able to look at someone like soon-to-be free agent Hamilton and all his baggage, and say, "Even with all that talent, he isn't a good fit under the burning Boston microscope?" Ditto Zack Greinke, although for a different set of baggage? Or will thousands of you jam talk-show lines every day demanding that the Red Sox acquire Felix Hernandez no matter what it takes? Remember, Red Sox fans clamored for Gonzalez twice as long as he actually played at Fenway.
That doesn't mean you should back off a good argument about dealing for, say, Cliff Lee and his big contract. But with James Loney probably only a six-week rental, will you be able to handle Mike Napoli being the biggest addition among a thin free-agent class this off-season?
I admit after this deal that I'm never again going to say never to any possible deal. You know the guy, half in the bag, who calls the overnight talk-radio show and proposes a trade that the host laughs at? That trade happened.
The fact that the Dodgers are eating all but $10 million to $12 million of the $270 million due those three guys blows me away. A year ago, the Dodgers were bankrupt, and owner Frank McCourt was the running joke of baseball. Since buying the team in the spring, the rich new ownership group, with Magic Johnson as its face and Guggenheim Partners as its biggest wallet, has been spending like crazy. According to the L.A. Times, they've already added $421 million to the payroll.
Only once in history has a player with at least $100 million left on his contract been traded [A-Rod]. There were two in this deal alone. Gonzalez still has $126 million left and Crawford $102.5 million.
With a new TV deal on the horizon, clearly not wanting Arte Moreno's Angels, the Lakers or even the Stanley Cup champion Kings to steal all their thunder, wow, the Dodgers must have wanted Gonzalez awfully bad to eat the contracts of Crawford and Beckett. Either that or Magic lost some bet to Larry Bird in some old McDonald's commercial and finally is paying up.
In the short term, the Dodgers win. In the long term, the Dodgers will pay dearly. As far as the Red Sox, wow, who would have thought they figured out a way to dump all that bad money and bad karma? Maybe we should look to them instead of Paul Ryan as the answer to wiping out our national debt.
It seems like a million years since Gonzalez smiled into the cameras and said, "I'm ready to beat the Yankees." It was only 20 months ago? What has happened in the past calendar year with the Red Sox couldn't have been uglier.
General manager Ben Cherington said Saturday that this about rebuilding: "We have to be disciplined. We can't go out tomorrow and fill up the payroll flexibility we just created. We're going to continue to have a significant payroll and be committed to building the best team we possibly can. I don't remember in 2004 or 2007 people talking as much about the payroll. We just talked about how good the team was."
Cherington talked about how the franchise's decisions, in aggregate, didn't work and the team has to acknowledge it. He talked about how cosmetic changes weren't going to fix the problem, how something bold was needed. He also kept using the word "discipline" in rebuilding.
He talked about finding value and good fits. Crawford was neither. He clearly wasn't built to play in the market. Gonzalez is a great hitter, not as much power as Red Sox fans wanted, and at least in my limited exposure a little whiny. Gonzalez said recently that nobody in Boston wanted to talk baseball, only engage in the soap opera. Yet there was Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe on television Saturday, saying how he approached Gonzalez to talk about fellow San Diego native Ted Williams and about his bats and A-Gon essentially blew him off.
"Beautiful player … not a winner," Shaughnessy said.
Maybe a little too harsh in his assessment, but my gut tells me not by much.
Without Beckett to pollute young pitchers, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are free now to flourish. You add in Felix Doubront, Rubby De La Rosa [one of the Dodger players to be named later] and even John Lackey, the seeds are planted for a decent staff. Should more pitching be brought in? Of course. Yet it does introduce a question about Lackey, Red Sox fans. Can you stand being around him [he still has two years left on that five-year, $82.5 million blunder] and can he handle it? If the answer is yes, the Red Sox might be able to get a dozen wins out of him in 2013. If not, there'll be enough bitterness remaining to kill that notion.
Although the trade has been widely painted as the Red Sox hitting the "reset" button, professional sports are rarely that tidy. There always are players remaining. There always is a carry-over.
The reputation of Dustin Pedroia, a lovable dirt dog before this year, has to be cleaned up a bit to make sure he isn't seen as a locker room lawyer. Lester has to step out from Beckett's dark, defiant shadow. Bobby Valentine doesn't come out any worse from this deal, but I have no real read on if he comes out any better. He might be gone, anyway.
The Red Sox need David Ortiz's bat more than ever. Papi won't find a bigger, longer deal elsewhere, but if he doesn't get anything near what he wants and he signs back, that'll be a lingering problem the Sox don't need in the rebuilding process. This must be settled.
"This ownership group knows more than others how quickly things can change," Cherington said. "At the end of 2001, it wasn't a great time. A few months later, everybody wanted to be in Boston. This is still a great place to play. The highs are really high when it's going well, and when they're not it can be tough."
Can you ride through those times, Red Sox fans? Or will some of you throw your pink hats in the closet? And others go crazy demanding immediate success? Good times might never have been so good for Sweet Caroline, but it's going to take time to erase the bad times. Can you handle that, Red Sox fans?