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Bold trade pays off

Moving prospects for Beckett, Lowell was right move

Posted: Friday October 26, 2007 11:51AM; Updated: Friday October 26, 2007 1:32PM
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Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett
Mike Lowell considered himself a "throw-in" in the Josh Beckett-Hanley Ramirez trade.
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Also in this column:
• Three signs it's Boston's year
• Planets align for Red Sox
• Yankees manager update
• More news and notes

A lot of baseball folks cringed when Boston pulled the trigger on a megatrade with Florida a couple of years ago. Some figured that shortstop prospect Hanley Ramirez should have been untouchable. Others even thought the same about pitching prospect Anibal Sanchez. He's a No. 1 pitcher in the making, one scout gasped after Sanchez threw a no-hitter on Sept. 6, 2006, that had to make even the Red Sox wonder whether they blew it big-time.

Plus, a few months after what turned out to be maybe the best and most logical trade for two teams in decades, Josh Beckett was struggling. Blisters were popping up and shoulder issues were cropping up. He was adjusting to the tougher league after spending his entire career in the NL. By then everyone was absolutely convinced that Boston had blundered badly.

But now, nearly two years after the November 2005 blockbuster, the Red Sox are leading the World Series 2-0, Beckett's the toast of this baseball-crazed town and Mike Lowell has been born again in Boston. The trade is now recalled so fondly that one of the three men who engineered it, ex-Red Sox exec Bill Lajoie, is here as a guest of the team. Lajoie left for the Dodgers soon after Theo Epstein returned to his old general manager post, and some thought Lajoie left them worse off. They could not have been more wrong.

The truth is, Boston's seven-player deal that sent Ramirez and Sanchez to Florida for Beckett and Lowell is everything it hoped for and more. After stellar regular seasons, Beckett and Lowell have continued to star in the postseason. Beckett won Game 1 of the Series 13-1, and Lowell drove in the game-winning run in the 2-1 Game 2 victory over Colorado.

Lowell was considered Boston's positional MVP for the first five months of this season and set career highs in batting average (.324) and RBIs (120), and Beckett has dominated this postseason, just as he did for Florida in 2003. Beckett has followed a fabulous regular season (he was baseball's only 20-game winner) by stealing October, and he now ranks as the all-time postseason leader in batting average against, at .159, ahead of such greats as Mariano Rivera (.176), Sandy Koufax (.180) and Eddie Plank (.186).

Yet at one time, the trade that brought Beckett to Boston was considered a most foolhardy gamble. When the deal was consummated Beckett was just back from a visit to noted surgeon James Andrews and had what one GM called an "ugly'' MRI, Lowell was coming off a year of ugly numbers and, worse yet, had an unsightly $16 million remaining on his contract.

Beyond all that, the new book says never to trade top, cheap prospects, and Ramirez was at the very head of the class. "We had him as the best prospect in baseball,'' recalled Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd.

GMs just don't deal guys like that anymore. It was especially surprising for the Red Sox, who spent more than a decade getting vilified for trading prospect deluxe Jeff Bagwell for relief piece Larry Anderson in 1990.

The Beckett deal went down at a time when Boston's boy wonder GM, Epstein, was on hiatus after leaving in a monkey suit. Club president Larry Lucchino was flexing his muscles, trying to show he could do it sans Epstein. The team was only a year removed from breaking its 86-year dry spell, and perhaps that emboldened Lucchino and the others. Whatever the case, they rolled the dice and came up aces -- or specifically, one ace -- that being Beckett, the MVP of this year's ALCS and maybe the MVP of the World Series so far, too.

The vote in the Red Sox room on the Beckett trade was only 3-3, with Lucchino and Lajoie joined by former major-league infielder Craig Shipley in favor of making the deal. The other executives voted like almost everyone else in baseball would have. "At the time I couldn't believe the Marlins got both Ramirez and Sanchez in the same trade,'' one competing exec recalled.

With Epstein on sabbatical, Lucchino was itching to make an imprint, and he did just that. "The question was, 'Do you want to win now? Or do you want to save the two prospects,'" Lajoie recalled in a phone conversation. "Larry felt we should pursue winning.''

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