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posted: 9/22/2013 8:00 AM

A blockbuster trade to learn from

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  • Adrian Gonzalez has been a solid addition to the Los Angeles Dodgers' lineup.

      Adrian Gonzalez has been a solid addition to the Los Angeles Dodgers' lineup.
    Associated Press

 
 

The first two baseball teams to clinch playoff spots are forever, expensively, connected.

In August 2012, the Red Sox were a complete mess. The late-era, star-chasing excesses of Theo Epstein, under the direction of Larry Lucchino, had bloated the payroll into that of a costly loser.

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Boston's clubhouse was a foul caldron of losing, fried chicken, beer, lots of bad contracts and Bobby Valentine.

The Dodgers were in Year 1 with new loaded ownership and had just signed a television deal guaranteeing them more than $6 billion over 25 years.

Six days before the deadline, the stunning trade came out of nowhere. It ended up involving nine players and saw $276 million dollars in owed salary sent to Los Angeles.

Boston generously agreed to cover $11 million of it.

The Red Sox were bailed out, suddenly free to hit restart and spend anew.

The Dodgers were infused with star power, showing their team and a still dubious city that a new era had clearly begun.

Thirteen months later both teams have won their divisions, and many of us would love to see them play World Series Game 1 on Oct. 23.

For the buyers, Adrian Gonzalez has a 126 OPS+ and 98 RBI. Carl Crawford has been decent as part of the four-outfielder rotation. Josh Beckett has been an unhealthy, absent disaster.

L.A. has won mostly on the strength of unrelated assets. A healthy Hanley Ramirez and an energetic Yasiel Puig transformed the Dodgers' season. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke form a preposterous 1-2 at the top of the rotation.

The effect on the Red Sox, and the intelligence of their reinvestment, is more evident. Ben Cherington used the money in the off-season on players instrumental to a stunning 2013. Very few picked them to win a packed AL East.

Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Ryan Dempster, Jonny Gomes and the stunningly great closer Koji Uehara all are new. Dustin Pedroia was given a contract extension with some of the cash, as well.

Boston hired the right manager as former pitching coach John Farrell helped Jon Lester refind himself (Lester 2012: 4.82 ERA/1.38 WHIP; 2013: 3.75/1.28). Clay Buchholz has been ace-like when healthy (Buchholz 2012: 4.56/1.32; 2013: 1.51/1.00). And John Lackey hasn't been this good since 2009.

Farrell would get my vote for AL Manager of the Year, topping a good list that includes Bob Melvin and Joe Girardi.

So what's to be learned from all of this for our local teams as they look up at nearly everyone in the standings?

•Fear the bad contracts at all costs.

Epstein learned the hard way. He talks about it frequently, as does White Sox GM Rick Hahn. The long-term, huge deals are disasters more often than not. And if you do go down that road, you better be able to keep at it, hoping to throw good money after bad.

•Be aggressive at getting out from under when opportunity arises.

It has been a summer of selling here, with good reason.

•Pitching instruction matters.

Boston has benefited from Farrell and former White Sox bullpen coach Juan Nieves. Don Cooper is not to be undervalued, and if you don't think Chris Bosio is the right guy, go find him.

•Teams can reload quickly if they're smart, supported and aggressive.

This, of course, is the hardest lesson to trust and execute.

Cherington was given far more financial latitude in Boston than Epstein or Hahn have and had more useful pieces already in place. Also, Boston's farm system provided trade bait, filler and an emerging star in Xander Bogaerts.

But with the help of a gluttonous benefactor it can be done.

And sometimes the benefactor wins, too.

•Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670

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