The Dodgers are the best team in baseball right now. It's almost a year since they acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett from the Red Sox. Both the Red Sox and Dodgers have improved dramatically since that deal. The Sox lead their division, the Dodgers have played .800+ baseball their last 50 games. So both teams made a good deal. Right?
Last year's colossal salary dump was good for the Red Sox. It gave the team freedom to spend on role players, and it banished Josh Beckett from the clubhouse. For the Dodgers, they took on massive payroll and what have they gotten from it? Beckett has been a bust. Carl Crawford has hit 5 homeruns this season. He's hitting .291 and has stolen 11 bases. He's back to being a decent player, but hardly worth the $20 million he gets paid. He's knocked in 21 runs. I know he's a leadoff hitter in the NL, but 21 RBI? Really?
Adrian Gonzalez is doing well. He leads the Dodgers in average (.296), homeruns (16), and RBI (77). He leads these categories because Hanley Ramirez (.348 BA), and Yasiel Puig (.346) don't have as many at-bats.
Before Puig burst from his chrysalis in June and began his methodical campaign of destruction in the National League, the Dodgers were 23-32. They were 13-13 in April, despite Adrian Gonzalez's 18 RBI and .398 OBP that month. They were 10-17 in May despite Gonzalez's 22 RBI, 5 HRs, and .886 OPS.
In other words, Adrian Gonzalez, even when hitting well, wasn't enough to win. The team needed Puig. And pitching. And Hanley Ramirez. And pitching. Pitching is why this team has won as many games as it has.
Clayton Kershaw is 12-7 with a 1.72 ERA. He's thrown 10 straight Quality Starts, dating back to late June. 22 Quality Starts in total.
Supporting him are Zach Greinke (12-3, 2.91 ERA, 9-1 in his last 10 decisions) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (12-4, 2.95 ERA). As a team the Dodgers have 71 Quality Starts. Their team ERA since the All-Star break is 2.25, best in the Majors. And in August it's 2.05. They've converted 93% of save opportunities since the All-Star break. That's why their winning.
How unimportant is Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers' success? August has been his worst month of the season (.317 OBP, .390 SLG, .707 OPS, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 4 walks, 13 strikeouts). The Dodgers are 17-3 in August. Gonzalez did well in April and May and the team lost. He's slowed down in August as his team has sped up. He's just not that important to them.
Then again, Carl Crawford is doing well in August (.380 OBP, .791 OPS), so maybe he's the reason the Dodgers are kicking so much ass.
Or maybe it's Kershaw (1.23 ERA in August). Puig (.886 OPS in August). Greinke (4-0, 0.96 ERA in August), Ryu (3-1, 2.03 ERA in August), and the rest of the Dodgers who were NOT acquired in last year's mega-trade.
On the field, that deal didn't hurt them. Both Gonzalez and Crawford have certainly helped, albeit at a ghastly price. The deal hasn't helped them that much, though. And certainly not as much as other deals they've made. Here are the transactions that have mad the difference for the Dodgers:
June 2006: Drafting Clayton Kershaw
June 2012: Signing Yasiel Puig as an amateur free agent (making 29 GMs kick themselves)
July 2012: Trading with the Marlins for Hanley Ramirez
December 2012: Purchasing the contract of Hyun-Jin Ryu from South Korean team Hanwah
December 2012: Signing Zach Greinke as a free agent
So the Dodgers did make some important deals in 2012. The Gonzalez-Crawford-Beckett deal was perhaps 5th or 6th most important on that list. But they had Gonzalez and Crawford when they sucked in April and May. It wasn't until Puig emerged, Ramirez got healthy, and the pitchers gelled that the team started winning. Gonzalez and Crawford have marginally helped in that winning, but the Dodgers could have acquired marginal contributors for much less than the $42 million those two cost per season.
The addition of Gonzalez and Crawford has been meaningless to the Dodgers' success.
So in conclusion, last year's deal between the Red Sox and Dodgers was still, in and of itself, a bad deal for the Dodgers. It only seems good now because of the other deals the Dodgers made. Those deals are why they are as red hot (or blue hot) as they are.