Cubs president of baseball operations and former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, in an interview on the WEEI Red Sox Hot Stove Show, said that the blockbuster August trade by the Sox to send Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers represented a strong deal on a couple of fronts. First, beyond the payroll flexibility gained through the trade, Epstein suggested that the prospects whom the Sox received from the Dodgers in the deal -- foremost right-handers Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa -- were both potential frontline big league starters.
"I think everyone in the industry was surprised by the scope of the deal as it became clear how many players were involved. I really like that trade because I'm a big fan of the talent they got back," said Epstein. "We'd spent a lot of time scouting the Dodgers system because we had some possible fits with them. They had some interest in [former Cubs pitcher Ryan] Dempster at the deadline. I just think it's hard to make any trade these days where you acquire two young starting pitchers the caliber of Webster and De La Rosa. So much was made of the players going from Boston to LA, the vast amounts of payroll that suddenly became available to the Red Sox. But I think not enough was made of the young talent that came back. Besides the players I've mentioned, they've already used some of the other players [from the Dodges] in deals this winter. But I think Webster and De La Rosa, being the keys to that deal, if those two develop into the core starting pitchers that they can be, it's going to be a transformative deal."
Epstein noted that part of the reason why the success of the deal will be defined by the prospects is because the value of financial flexibility has been diminished at a time when all teams seem to have money to spend.
"The payroll that they freed up is remarkable in its own right, [but] it's an interesting dynamic. We are experiencing the same thing to a certain extent. Having available dollars today, at this moment in time, in this marketplace dynamic, is not what it was 10 years ago or even five years ago. There was a time when you really had to cling to payroll flexibility because there was so much you could do with it," said Epstein. "You were in the catbird's seat in the market. You could really pick and choose what you wanted to do. If there was a player out there, you got him if you had the most payroll flexibility. If you had a good farm system, as the Red Sox do, and payroll flexibility, you could do just about anything you wanted to in trades. These days, with TV money and things going on in the game, there are a lot of teams with money to spend and there's only so many ways to spend it. The new CBA really limits club's flexibility to allocate those resources to the amateur market or the international market. There are a lot of teams with money to spend and fewer and fewer quality free agents available. Just having money to spend does not necessarily put a franchise in a great position anymore. So I think the underrated part of that deal for the Red Sox was the young pitching coming back, and I think that will serve them well for a really long time."
Perhaps more significantly, Epstein noted, was the fact that the organization appears to have redefined its priorities with an eye to the long term. He suggested that it might be an indication that the various forces that he characterized as "The Monster" when looking back on his Sox days this summer may have been suppressed.
"If that trade was an indication that the entire organization is on the same page going forward and has a real united front, and that they're prepared to invest in the future together and to take a long view together, then I think that's a great thing for the franchise. It sure seems that way," said Epstein. "I think that's terrific for everyone involved. [GM Ben Cherington] has always been someone with great perspective and great wisdom, who's able to look at the big picture. It seems like everyone's putting their faith in him.
"I think the outlook of the franchise has evolved based on what it's been through. We were in a position where we were having tremendous success, year-in, year-out, averaging 95 wins or so. When you're doing that, it can be hard for everybody to look at the big picture, the long haul. But after you go through some adversity, you have some deals that don't work out, you miss the postseason -- especially if you go through what the Red Sox went through last year, which was so traumatic I'm sure for everybody -- I think there can be a silver lining there where it makes priorities more clear and can unite people behind a common strategy. From afar, it looks like everyone's united and things are going in a great direction, as long as there can be some patience involved."
Epstein will be in Boston next week for the annual Hot Stove Cool Music events (a roundtable discussion on Friday, Jan. 11, and concert on Saturday, Jan. 12) to benefit the Foundation To Be Named Later. For information and tickets, visit the website of the Foundation to Be Named Later .