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Top Moments of the Decade #6: The Punto Deal

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A franchise-altering transaction, to be discussed at an apt time in franchise history.

Chicago Cubs v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

It is now December in the year of our Aceves 2019, which means that everyone who is anyone is doing some sort of content creation to mark the end of the decade. It is horribly unoriginal, which I do not say derisively because I’m doing it too! It’s practically legally obligated! Anyway, I’m going to be counting down the top moments of the decade for the duration of the month. We’ll start with our honorable mentions in which I’ll put down my numbers 11-20 moments of the decade and then after that each of the top ten moments will have their own standalone post. This is all totally subjective (obviously), and it’s also specifically not the best moments. In other words, i’s not all good, though most of it is. Okay, that’s enough, right? I don’t need to explain the concept of a top moments of the decade series, right? You get it.

At the end of last week, we got to the point in our countdown where we had to bring up the unmentionable and talk about the epic collapse that came in 2011. It was one of the low points in franchise history, a total disaster that completely altered the history of this organization. It looked like Boston was on its way to building a dynasty, or at least a roster that could compete year after year for a long time — dynasties are particularly hard to build in baseball, given the flukiness of the postseason. Instead, everything fell apart in what was a relative blink of an eye.

As one would expect, the reactions to that 2011 collapse, not to mention the whole chicken and beer fiasco, were swift and extreme. Terry Francona was essentially fired. Theo Epstein was heading to the Cubs. Bobby Valentine — Bobby Valentine, the man who claims to have invented the wrap sandwich and the man who once wore a fake mustache after being ejected from a game — was hired to try and clean things up. We went from relative bliss in August of 2011 to forced optimism about Bobby Valentine only months later. The plan, it seemed, was to more or less run it back with the same talent, just under different leadership.

It, uh, didn’t work. In terms of total heartbreak and effect, nothing in this decade could top (or bottom, I guess) the 2011 season. In terms of sheer disaster day in and day out, though? That, my friends, clearly goes to the 2012 team. I remember this summer extremely well, as it was the first summer I spent away from home. Going into my senior year at UMass, I opted to stay in Amherst for the summer.

Amherst is wild during the school year, but extremely subdued in the summer with most of the students back in their hometowns. With a lot of free time on my hands — I was working, but not taking classes — I ended up spending a big chunk of it listening to sports radio. Boston sports radio is a...unique beast pretty much all of the time, but let me tell you something. Boston sports radio in the summer of Bobby V was on another plane of existence. And it was entirely deserved.

It wasn’t really that the Red Sox were bad for the entire season. For the first four months of the season, they were more or less “meh.” Given their roster and payroll, it certainly wasn’t enough, but they weren’t the bottoming-out team I, and probably others, remember. Heading into the month of August, they were 53-51. Again, not good enough, but they were not good. And then in August, they bottomed out. For the whole month, they wound up going 9-20, which would be a 50-win pace over 162 games. Most of that month was spent with the normal roster, too.

I say most, because on August 25, the Dodgers came calling. Now, the Dodgers of 2012 were different than the Dodgers of today. A group led by Magic Johnson had just bought the team from Frank McCourt earlier that year, and they were looking to flex their financial might. This was pre-Andrew Friedman and pre-financial caution. And so, the Red Sox did the unthinkable. They dealt both Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, both of whom were on bloated contracts and not performing, in what is now effectively known as the Punto Deal. (Nick Punto was, of course, the player of least consequence going from Boston to Los Angeles.) Now, it wasn’t for free. The Red Sox did have to give up Adrian Gonzalez, and putting aside any clubhouse or personality questions you may have, he was still producing. He is the reason the Dodgers did this deal, and he is the hurt that had to come from Boston’s side.

At the same time, the Red Sox did get some good, young talent in exchange, too. Along with guys like Ivan De Jesus Jr., James Loney and Jerry Sands, Boston was also able to get Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, both of whom had been Baseball America top 100 prospects by that point of their career. Granted, we know now that those pitchers wouldn’t amount to much of anything as major-league arms, but the value at the time was unfathomable.

It was the all-time August trade, and totally allowed the Red Sox to reset. As we know now, Ben Cherington took a different tact with the newfound payroll, going after a lot of mid-level veterans the next winter, putting together a group that would improbably make a run that ended in a championship. This one comes up in our countdown at an apt time, too, given where the present-day Red Sox sit with their own payroll. The situations aren’t all that comparable — David Price is better than both Crawford and Beckett, there is no Gonzalez going along for the ride, and teams all around the league value financial flexibility far too much to play the role of the Dodgers this time around — but that won’t stop the comparisons. And for as sad as I am that 2011 roster never turned into anything besides a punchline, and as much as I hate the Bobby V year, it did give us the most fascinating single transaction in all of baseball from the decade.