Blockbuster deal for Dodgers, Red Sox will be defined by dollars and sense

Years from now, we'll look back on what happened Friday, when the Los Angeles Dodgers played TARP to the Boston Red Sox, and marvel at the entire spectacle. It is August, the dog days, when the slog of the regular season begins to transition into the excitement of the playoff race. The only transactions of note are supposed to involve players going to and returning from the disabled list.

And here come the Dodgers and the Red Sox, two of baseball's jewel franchises, pulling off one of the biggest and most fascinating trades ever. A year ago, the Dodgers were in bankruptcy. Now, the Red Sox will send Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto and the combined $262.5 million remaining on their contracts to Los Angeles for top pitching prospects Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, marginal hitting prospects Jerry Sands and Ivan DeJesus, and first baseman James Loney.

It will mark the biggest salary dump in the history of professional sports, a quarter-billion-dollar mea culpa from the Red Sox, who spent their way into the quagmire of mediocrity from which they've been unable to extricate themselves this season. And it will cement the Dodgers' rise from the nadir of Frank McCourt's ownership to their place as baseball bailout kings, the franchise that will chase talent no matter the price.

This is a dangerous game both teams are playing, the Red Sox jettisoning a pair of players they gave seven years and nine figures to ostensibly hit the restart button and the Dodgers playing the kid who blows his allowance on candy and wonders later why the dentist has to drill so much.

As fascinating as it's been to watch the Red Sox implode over the last calendar year, from September meltdown to the beer-and-chicken blame game to the ill-fated Bobby Valentine hire to the text message heard 'round New England, their story is the classic fall of the titan, one familiar in the annals of the game. Full of drama though it may be, it doesn't pack the intrigue of watching a new power establish itself with the fury the Dodgers have since the Mark Walter-Magic Johnson-Stan Kasten consortium acquired the franchise for $2 billion in March.

[Related: Nine-player trade is biggest in Dodgers history]

No longer are the Dodgers a baseball team. They are a conglomerate comprised of a multibillion-dollar television contract, an iconic venue in Dodger Stadium, a brand that again means something, marketing and merchandising arms that drive revenue and, sure, a ballclub onto which each of the aforementioned arms gloms. A Mexican-born star from Southern California signed to a relatively reasonable contract compared to his peers – Joey Votto at $250 million and Albert Pujols at $240 million and Prince Fielder at $214 million – and all he costs is a few prospects and taking on some may-or-may-not-work-out contracts? For the Los Angeles Dodgers, team, Adrian Gonzalez is nice. For the Los Angeles Dodgers, empire, Adrian Gonzalez is a coup.

The Dodgers abide by the spend-money-to-make-money philosophy as much as the gluttonous Yankees of George Steinbrenner ever did because not only are they lavishing it on players, they're stockpiling underachievers. So far so good with Hanley Ramirez. Crawford has 4½ years to earn his keep once he returns from Tommy John surgery. Beckett, like Gonzalez claimed off waivers Friday by the Dodgers, is operating with diminished stuff, and the Dodgers can only hope his escape from the toxicity of Boston – plus, sure, jumping from the AL East to NL West – will invigorate his career.

The Red Sox are whole again. It's not just losing Beckett, whose influence on the younger pitchers he was supposed to mentor emboldened them with the same self-importance he wears daily. Nor is it the symbolic gesture of running off one of the players at the forefront of the uprising against Bobby V, whose enemies keep getting picked off one-by-one.

This is about the money. It always was about the money. The Red Sox found themselves in an untenable situation financially because Gonzalez's and Crawford's contracts hamstrung them not just now but through 2017. So they floated Gonzalez on waivers, found a taker, convinced that taker to swallow Crawford's remaining $102.5 million and Beckett's $31.5 million, finagled a pair of starting pitchers with high-octane fastballs and turned $106.9 million in commitments for next season into $45.6 million worth of 2013 obligations.

[Also: Jeff Passan: 25 things you didn't know about baseball]

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington saved his predecessor, Theo Epstein, from living down more than the Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey disasters. The allure of deep pockets can turn a rational GM into a reckless one. Even for a team like the Red Sox, who come close to selling out every home game, the principle of fiscal responsibility must be more than rhetoric. Sloppy contracts have permeated Boston's roster since it last won the World Series in 2007.

Once the trade is official, its reshaping begins. Enough front-line pieces exist for the Red Sox to enter 2013 with hope, especially considering the depth and quality of their prospects and what the newfound financial freedom may afford them, be it Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke or whoever else fears not stepping into the terrordome that is present-day Boston baseball culture.

To abscond to Los Angeles, to a pennant race, to a team that wants you is about the best deal possible for the four players set to join the Dodgers. Never mind that their new team is falling prey to the same thing their old team did, this idea that bright, shiny things are worth buying now even if their luster will fade soon enough. This is different. They are different. Everyone thinks he is.

Maybe they are. Baseball's natural order tends to restore itself. When one franchise is headed up, another must go down, the sport's equilibrium doing its job.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, fresh out of bankruptcy, want to take on somewhere in the neighborhood of a small nation's GDP worth of baseball players.

The Boston Red Sox, trailed by the stench of underachievement, infighting and mistrust, want to turn their 2012 roster into a relic and bury the sucker.

And on a random August day more than three weeks after the non-waiver trade deadline, each used the other to achieve an inherently risky goal. Whatever you want to call it, the second-richest team in the game held a private auction or a targeted fire sale or a white-flag parade and readied to divest itself. There to accept was baseball's newest power, MLB franchise 2.0, for whom no price is too rich.

Years from now, it'll still sound just as wild as it does today.

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