According to the authority that is Wikipedia, Labor Day is an American federal holiday to honor the contributions of workers, celebrated on the first Monday of September traditionally with BBQs and adult beverages. To the baseball world, Labor Day represents a checkpoint in the baseball season, with those in contention focusing on the playoff chase ahead and those struggling through a poor season reflecting on what went wrong the previous five months. This idea struck me and this theme guides both topics I examine today, first the Nationals somewhat surprising decision to add veteran LHP Zach Duke to strengthen their bullpen and my thoughts on the Los Angeles Dodgers mega-trade with Boston last week. So in my own small way, here is a Tip of the Fedora to all those hard-working individuals out there, take the day off and enjoy some baseball talk.
In an effort to bolster their weary bullpen for the stretch drive, Monday morning the Nationals summoned former 2009 All-Star representative and veteran LHP Zach Duke from Triple-A Syracuse. Duke, a 29-year-old former long-time member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, spent all of 2012 in Triple-A posting a 15-5 record with a 3.51 ERA over 26 starts and 164.1 innings pitched, with 91 strikeouts and 39 walks. Although he has performed as a starter all season and the majority of his career, Duke will pitch out of the bullpen for the Nationals this month, where his numbers against left-handed hitters this season (2.53 ERA and .245 batting average against) and ability to pitch multiple innings should add much needed depth to the relief corps. In order to clear the space on the 40-man roster necessary to add Duke, Henry Rodriguez was placed on the 60-day disabled list after undergoing surgery on his pitching elbow last week.
As I mentioned in Saturday’s column, I was mildly surprised that the Nationals did not add a second arm, in addition to Christian Garcia, to their bullpen amidst their September call-ups to help the already taxed bullpen and pitch the innings of lesser importance during the final few weeks of the season. Considering Sean Burnett is dealing with some general soreness in his pitching elbow, and the Nationals two long relievers in the bullpen, Craig Stammen and Tom Gorzelanny, are currently in the top-20 in innings pitched by a reliever this season, needless to say, Zach Duke should provide some relief specifically to these three pitchers in the days ahead. While the Nationals must continue to rely on their reliable workhorses in the bullpen when the game is on the line, manager Davey Johnson should not hesitate to use Duke in low-leverage situations and save any unnecessary pitches on this tiring bullpen. If not for the team’s ability to place Rodriguez on the disabled list and create another space on the roster, Duke would likely not have been added to the team due to the numbers crunch, but like many things for the Nationals this season, a piece of bad news could turn out to benefit the team. Another subtle but productive move by general manager Mike Rizzo and the front office, and congratulations to Zach on his return to the major leagues.
The Boston Red Sox Make a Blockbuster Trade with the Newly Wealthy Los Angeles Dodgers
In one of the biggest baseball trades in recent memory, the Boston Red Sox cleared more than a quarter of a billion dollars in future payroll when they traded 1B Adrian Gonzalez, OF Carl Crawford, RHP Josh Beckett, and INF Nick Punto, along with $11 million dollars, to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for 1B James Loney, INF Ivan DeJesus Jr., 1B/OF Jerry Sands, RHP Allen Webster, and a Player To Be Named, expected to be RHP Rubby De La Rosa.
In hopes of reaching the playoffs this fall, the Dodgers new ownership group continues to spend money like a drunken sailor on leave, as since taking over just a few short months ago they acquired 5 players at the July trade deadline (Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Joe Blanton, Brandon League, and Shane Victorino), and now will add more than $250 million dollars in future payroll in acquiring Gonzalez, Crawford, Beckett, and Punto from Boston. Adrian Gonzalez is the jewel of this trade, a 4-time All-Star and career .293/.371/.507 hitter with 211 home runs, who is signed for six more years at $21 million per year. But to acquire Gonzalez, the Dodgers are taking on quite a large amount of risk and future payroll as they also received Carl Crawford, who is signed for more than $100 million the next 5 years and underwent Tommy John surgery last week, and Josh Beckett, signed through 2014 and holder of a 5.21 ERA in 133 innings this season. In terms of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, the Dodgers are gambling that the change of scenery will help rejuvenate their careers and get them back playing to their abilities, and Adrian Gonzalez will be the long-term solution for Los Angeles at first base.
Well on their way to missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season, Boston has long needed to hit the reset button and start over, so when the Dodgers offered them an opportunity to do so, the Red Sox had little choice but to trade these veterans. Although there is little question that the overwhelming key to this trade from Boston’s perspective is the reduction in future payroll, give general manager Ben Cherington credit for also receiving some useful pieces in return. While their ultimate ceilings are likely as backups, Sands and DeJesus should become productive bench players and both Webster and De La Rosa have impressive arms with the potential to be mid-rotation starters. Nevertheless, with Gonzalez, Crawford, and Beckett now in Los Angeles and David Ortiz and Daisuke Matsuzaka free agents this winter, Boston could have $100+ million to spend as they attempt to fill holes in the starting rotation, first base, and corner outfield this offseason.
A good trade is normally loosely defined as a deal in which both sides improved themselves and received what they wanted in return for what they traded away: this holds true in regard to this transaction in the fact that the Dodgers immediately upgrade their roster with Gonzalez at first base and Beckett in the rotation, making them a stronger playoff contender, and the Red Sox quickly become the major player in free agency this winter. Losing Gonzalez will hurt long-term, but Boston general manager Ben Cherington deserves to win Executive of the Year after executing this trade, clearing two malcontents and effectively hitting the reset button on three difficult seasons for the Red Sox. That said, the Dodgers have done well to flex their newfound financial muscle to add Gonzalez, Ramirez, and Victorino to their lineup, and Beckett to their rotation, but it is tough to believe that these short-term improvements will not come at a damaging long-term cost in terms of aging players, lost prospects, and sunk cost contracts. Like a bad champagne hangover, this deal has the potential to hurt the Dodgers in the long run.
NatsGM Grade: Boston Red Sox A Los Angeles Dodgers B-/C+
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