Adrián González last played in the majors in 2018, but the three years that passed between then and Saturday’s official announcement of his retirement helped provide proper perspective on his time with the Dodgers.
The Dodgers acquisition of González in August 2012 was stunning at the time, mostly for the scope of the deal. Los Angeles absorbed over $250 million in payroll from the Red Sox in one fell swoop, with González signed through 2018 and Los Angeles taking on the onerous contracts of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett as part of the cost.
The Nick Punto Trade — the moniker referencing the final, less-heralded player in the deal — became official on August 25, 2012, during baseball’s waiver trade period. The growing rumors of each player clearing waivers crescendoed into a chartered flight to Los Angeles, a Mickey Mouse T-shirt, and a postgame press conference that took place on the field, behind home plate at Dodger Stadium.
González was the headliner, and for good reason.
At the time of the trade, Dodgers first basemen were hitting just .244/.289/.357, in the bottom four in MLB at the position in home runs, OPS, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. James Loney, in the midst of his worst season, was among the five players traded to Boston in the deal. In González, the Dodgers got a player who in the previous five seasons averaged 37 doubles, 33 home runs, and a 147 OPS+.
The Punto Trade provides a good example why it’s not always instructive to assign a winner and loser of each transaction. Trades should provide both teams something they want, and this was no exception. The Red Sox needed a reset after a 2011 collapse and a toxic 2012, and they rebounded immediately, winning the World Series in 2013.
The Dodgers did not win the World Series with González, and down the stretch in 2012 were unable to make up a 1½-game deficit in August and missed the playoffs.
González was productive when healthy, averaging 35 doubles, 26 home runs, 4.2 bWAR and a 129 OPS+ from 2013-15, a steady force on the first three of eight straight division winners before back and neck injuries ate into his final two years in Los Angeles (99 OPS+, 0.9 bWAR in 2016-17 combined). The cost to acquire that production was high, even including the pair of solid years from Carl Crawford and the good season from Josh Beckett that included a no-hitter.
But this was not about efficiency, or dollars per WAR. It was a large-market team finally acting like one, signaling their return to spending.
The Dodgers in 2012 were coming out of a dark place, emerging from Frank McCourt’s ownership that literally dragged the franchise into bankruptcy. From 2010-12, the average Dodgers opening day payroll was $106.8 million, falling to 10th in MLB in 2012.
Investment in the farm system dried up, too, and player development atrophied. The new ownership group needed to both build up the minor league infrastructure and improve at the major league level, facing a third straight season of missing the playoffs.
Sale of the Dodgers did not close until May 2012, during the season. But they got to work in short order on both fronts. Andre Ethier signed a five-year, $85 million extension in June. A few weeks later, Cuban free agent Yasiel Puig signed for $42 million in June, the same month Corey Seager was drafted, and the team signed a 16-year-old pitcher out of Mexico in August by the name of Julio Urías.
The most impactful Dodgers trade in 2012 was acquiring Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins, providing a dynamic middle-of-the-order bat that upgraded a lineup that was lacking offensively. Adding González in August did the same.
One could easily argue the Dodgers paid too much to acquire González. Perhaps not in those traded away, with Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Jerry Sands, Allen Webster, and Ivan DeJesus Jr. doing very little after leaving Los Angeles. The argument would be that taking on the money for Crawford and Beckett to get González was too steep a financial cost, but it’s hard to see where the that trade prevented the Dodgers from making other moves.
The Dodgers’ opening day payroll averaged $248 million from 2013-17, the first five years of the Guggenheim ownership group, by far the highest in MLB, a figure that brought an additional $150 million in competitive balance tax during that time.
The trade with the Red Sox was akin to the Nationals signing outfielder Jayson Werth for $126 million before the 2011 season. Washington wasn’t good just yet, but they were about to be very good, and that move was a signal that the Nationals were open for business in the high-end section of the market.
The Dodgers used their financial resources to pay for the major league team, sometimes exorbitantly, while at the same time building up a farm system that would provide the sustainability they craved going forward. It’s hard to argue with the results in the nine full seasons since — a .604 winning percentage (a 98-win pace per 162 games), nine playoff appearances, eight division titles, three pennants, and the first championship for the franchise in 32 years.
In 2012, the Dodgers badly needed production and stability at the major league level, and González provided that. It was the start of a new era in Los Angeles.