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The Deal of the Century

It’s easy to overuse superlatives such as “Deal of the Century” but the nine-player trade between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles certainly qualifies, and indeed we are but early in the second decade of this century in any event. In terms of sheer dollar volume, this is the biggest ever. While most of the interest and excitement focuses on deals prior to the July 31st “trade deadline”, significant deals do happen during August. Just to review, players changing teams in August must pass through “waivers”, that is they are put on the “wire” and first the teams in their league get to claim or pass depending on their reverse standing, if they are unclaimed, then the teams in the other league get to claim or pass based on their reverse standing.

So when the Boston Red Sox put their non-pareil first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and staff ace Josh Beckett on waivers, it was fascinating to see who, if anyone, would claim them. No one in the American League stepped up, and finally the Los Angeles Dodgers, finally stirring from their long captivity to Frank and Jamie McCourt, claimed both of them. No surprise, really, when the Philadelphia Phillies put left-hander Cliff Lee on the wire earlier, it was the Dodgers who stepped up and put in a claim. The Phillies, as it turns out, were not serious, and nothing else happened. The Dodgers, however, threw down their marker, even players with $100 million or more on their contracts, if there was a fit or a need, the Dodgers were going to claim them.

Waivers in August are what is termed “revocable” that is, when a player is put on the wire and claimed, three things can happen: the waiving team can let the claiming team have the player, with no other players or money changing hands; the claimant takes full responsibility for the player’s contract. Alternatively, the two teams have 48 hours to work out a deal for the claimed player, which may involve other players and money; or finally, the waiving team can “pull back” the player, as the Phillies did with Lee.

In this case, the Red Sox were serious about dumping the salaries of Gonzalez (over $120M owed over the next six years) and Beckett (almost $35 million over the next two years), and the Dodgers have coveted Gonzalez for years since he was playing down the road in San Diego. The Red Sox GM Ben Cherington knew he had leverage, and decided to keep pushing: he added disappointing free-agent acquisition Carl Crawford to the deal (another plus-$100 million over the next five years); the Dodgers then countered that they wanted Nick Punto to replace the injured Jerry Hairston, and finally it remained to work out what prospects/players the Dodgers would ship east: right-hander Rubby De la Rosa (currently on the mend from Tommy John surgery), who pitched for the Dodgers last year, right-hander Allen Webster, one of their top prospects (whom they would not include when the Cubs offered Ryan Dempster last month), infielder Ivan DeJesus, outfielder-first baseman Jerry Sands (who has played with the Dodgers last year and this season), first baseman James Loney who will be a free agent at the end of the season, and $12 million. The Red Sox have at once improved their depth, restocked their farm system, and unloaded over $260 million in contract commitment. This fundamentally adjusts the order in the National League West and American League East.

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