It's a sad day for Boston baseball, as Nick Punto has decided that it's time to end his 14-year career. Punto, who played for the Red Sox for part of 2012, sat out the 2015 season, and will now hang up his cleats at 38.
You might be wondering, "How is Nick Punto a Red Sox legend if he played in Boston for part of one season?" You might want to sit down for this history lesson, y'all, as if you don't understand the importance of Nick Punto now, you will by the time this is over.
Punto was signed before 2012 for two years and $3 million, essentially to play the role that Brock Holt finds himself in now. Punto wasn't great at any one thing, but he did have versatility, and helped stretch the bench out beyond the players on it. Well, in theory, anyway: he was a disaster in Boston, hitting just .200/.301/.272 over 65 games.
However, Punto's importance went beyond what he did on the field: he also helped impact the Red Sox off of it. Punto was the final player in the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers along with Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and a quarter-billion dollars in future contract commitments. Punto was included because, by dealing him at that point in the season and making his contract the property of the Dodgers, the Red Sox could get under the luxury tax threshold for the first time in years, resetting the penalty percentage in the present instead of forcing them to attempt to do so the next season. That's no small thing, either, as a reset penalty meant a 17.5 percent tax the next time they went over, whereas the Sox were in line for 40 percent as a repeat offender.
The Red Sox shed just $327,000 by including Punto in the deal, but that was enough to get under the luxury tax threshold: they were $47,177 dollars under the $178 million limit at the end of the 2012 season, after beginning the year hopelessly above it.
You might remember that the Sox were over the luxury tax with little in the way of budget to work with before the 2012 season. They traded Marco Scutaro to avoid competitive balance tax complications, even though they could have used him. They traded the inexpensive Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey because it was cheaper to find a new outfielder than it was to find a closer. Many of Boston's moves were made with this lack of flexibility in mind, and it didn't pan out in 2012. Trading Punto to the Dodgers, though, pushed the Red Sox just under the luxury tax limit, freeing up more of their budget for actual players instead of penalties, and just over a year later, they were World Series champions.
Why do you think we refer to this massive deal as the Punto Trade? It's half-joking, sure, but it's also because his presence in the deal had as much to do with Boston's immediate success following it as anyone else. The total money freed up by the trade, both in the contracts sent west and the penalties Boston no longer had to pay, helped them afford Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, David Ross, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara -- it had massive implications the day the trade was made, and in some cases, still does as the Sox are in a position to wave off a year or two over the tax with an ease they didn't have in 2012. Money they saved on the tax was able to go to someone like Jonny Gomes, who was huge for the Red Sox in his role both in the regular season and postseason.
Like Punto, the money might not seem like that much on the surface, but there was a lot going on there.
So, pour one out for Nick Punto today, both because of the major ramifications his short time on the Red Sox ended up having, as well as for what was a pretty decent career for a guy who usually just brought a glove to games. Hopefully, the Sox sent you a World Series ring for 2013, because you played a part in that championship, too.