Does this trade mark the end of Boston as a destination for big-time free agents?

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

Viewed in the here and now, this weekend's blockbuster deal between the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers is a giant 'get out of jail free' card for the team on the east coast. With the team's 2012 season sunk by poor play and a fractured clubhouse, GM Ben Cherington has a chance to climb out from under the weight of three giant contracts handed out by his predecessor and plan for a "first principles" future that suddenly includes the term "financial flexibility." The only visible cost of the deal at the moment is a couple more years of Adrian Gonzalez's prime — which could indeed be significant — and the $12.5 million they'll be sending the Los Angeles Yankees (sic) to help pay the quarter-billion's worth of contracts that are headed west.

But looking forward, you have to wonder if that financial flexibility will mean anything given the atmosphere that's seeing the trio of Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford  (plus Nick Punto, why won't anyone think of poor Nick Punto?) ushered out of town in the most unceremonious way possible. That possibility of Beantown being treated like a no-entry zone crystallized itself on Saturday morning after seeing the cover of the Boston Herald touting all three of the big names as dead weight. "BUMS AWAY," blared the headline and you had to wonder the tab bothered showing any type of restraint by omitting a exclamation point.

There's no arguing that the three players provided some key points of contention to fuel Boston's media and its fanbase: Gonzalez with his willingness to let Kelly Shoppach borrow his smartphone, Crawford by posting a dismal 2011 before turning in an injury-shortened 2012 and Beckett by not conforming to the ideals of how a ballplayer should prepare for a game or preen for the public in front of the press.

None of the three, however, were the heavy anchors that the newspaper page makes them out to be. One is a pitcher who played a large role in winning the 2007 World Series, one is a first baseman still capable of winning an MVP in a push for another title and one is an All-Star outfield who ran into the common pressure of playing up to a big contract in a big market and was never given the time (nor the health) to work his way back. It's hard to imagine that any future free agent will look at the way these three were treated and want to sign a long deal to play in Boston. Not with new TV riches making Boston and New York far from the only markets to fatten one's wallet and not with an ownership group that paid no attention to the wishes of its players when it answered the dysfunctional end to the 2011 season by bringing in the most divisive manager to solve things. Three players are being scapegoated for Boston's awful season when the list of responsible parties in much longer. Don't think the rest of the league doesn't notice.

Money, of course, will ultimately speak loudest in the end. It did when Crawford passed up a lot of money to play in his preferred destination with the Los Angeles Angels to sign for even more cash in Boston. But after seeing how this whole thing went down, it's worth wondering whether free agents will demand an even higher premium to submit themselves to a leading role in Boston's summer soap opera. Sure, the Red Sox may be saving a lot of money now, but it could cost them a lot more — both in payroll and lost seasons — in the end.

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