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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Red Sox, Dodgers: Two teams going in opposite directions

Adrian Gonzalez watches his three-run home run during

Adrian Gonzalez watches his three-run home run during the first inning in his Dodgers debut against the Miami Marlins. (Aug. 25, 2012) Credit: AP

As Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington stood at a Fenway Park podium Saturday and delivered a mea culpa for the front office's mistakes, a private plane carrying two of them -- Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett -- was somewhere high above the Rocky Mountains.

How do we know that? Nick Punto, another passenger included in the nine-player trade with the Dodgers, took a Twitter photo of the castoffs, all of them grinning from the plush cabin.

If not for the absence of Carl Crawford, who had Tommy John surgery Thursday, the group portrait would have represented nearly everything that went wrong for the Red Sox this season and threatened to sabotage the reeling franchise for years to come.

So in summing up the megadeal, which brought James Loney and four prospects to Boston -- along with dumping an unthinkable $260 million in salary on the Dodgers -- Cherington condemned the exiled Sox in the kindest language possible.

"We recognized we are not who we want to be," he said during the news conference. "We needed to make more than cosmetic changes."

As exit strategies go, this was a beauty. Gonzalez, a former Padre, never seemed comfortable in Boston after signing a six-year, $154-million contract, and he was exposed two weeks ago as a member of the vocal insurrection trying to bring down Bobby Valentine. Beckett, the ringleader of last season's beer-and-chicken brigade, returned surly this year and continued to embarrass the Sox.

Then there was Crawford, who pulled the ripcord and opted for elbow surgery rather than finish out the schedule with his teammates. This was after playing only 31 games, and a total of 161 in two seasons after getting his seven-year, $142-million deal. His health had become a matter of constant debate within the organization as Valentine daily tried to decipher whether he could be in the lineup.

Cherington characterized the trade as one meant to produce payroll flexibility in the future, and it certainly does that. The Red Sox also received four decent prospects who should help their rebuild -- a surprisingly big haul from a Dodgers team absorbing so much salary. But despite Cherington's denials, this also was an obvious cleansing of the clubhouse.

"The culture will feel better,'' Cherington said, "when we start winning more games."

At first glance, the blockbuster, along with the series of trades leading up to it, suggests that Valentine could be a part of the solution. Starting with Kevin Youkilis and continuing with Kelly Shoppach, the Sox began clearing away Valentine's smaller obstacles before taking out the bigger ones. But it's still too early to tell if he will survive the purge.

As for the Dodgers, the obvious prize was Gonzalez, who was inserted in the cleanup spot Saturday night against the Marlins and responded with a three-run homer. The Dodgers chose to accept the declining skills of Beckett at a cost of $31.5 million over the next two years as a necessary evil. Crawford can't even pick up a baseball right now, so he brings zero to the table as the Dodgers try to catch the Giants.

Although money was a motivating factor for the big-market Sox, who began this year with a $175-million payroll, it apparently means nothing to the Dodgers' new ownership group. Magic Johnson and Co. already had traded for Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino in July.

The fact that the Dodgers still were hungry for more should make the rest of the NL West feel very nervous about their Tinseltown neighbors, who apparently are intent on bringing Showtime to Chavez Ravine. Even after spending $2.15 billion for the franchise, they still have enough change left to pull it off -- something the previous owner, Frank McCourt, did not.

"We continue to do everything in our power," GM Ned Colletti said, "to strengthen our team for the stretch drive in an effort to reach the postseason."

That's not an idle threat. But the Red Sox -- forever consumed by their arms race with the Yankees -- ultimately were done in by similar thinking. Only time will tell who got the better of the deal.

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