Adrian Gonzalez got all of the hype, hoopla and fanfare in Saturday’s blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox, and rightfully so. He was, after all, the intended target of the trade all along. But what about the other three guys that the Dodgers acquired in what is arguably the biggest trade in Dodgers history?
In addition to A-Gon, the Dodgers also acquired two-time World Champion right-hander Josh Beckett, who was mired in controversy during his final months with the Red Sox but who is still (reportedly) an extremely efficient control pitcher. We’ll know more about Beckett on Monday night after his first start as a Dodger against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field (yikes!).
Third on the list is 4-time All-Star, 4-time stolen base champ, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger outfielder Carl Crawford who, as Kevin Kennedy of KLAC’s DodgerTalk put it, “isn’t a good trade… he’s a great trade.” Kennedy would know, having spent two seasons up close and personal with Crawford while a broadcaster with the Tampa Bay Rays. Unfortunately, with Crawford having just undergone Tommy John surgery, we will not get to see him in action until (around) May of 2013.
This brings us to the last guy involved in this historic trade… the other guy – utility infielder Nick Punto, who himself is a former World Champion with last year’s Cinderella Cardinals. I will be the first to admit that I knew very little about Nick Punto until Saturday’s mega-trade.
Punto was in the starting line-up for the first time as a Dodger in Sunday’s should-have-won 6-2 loss to the lowly Miami Marlins. What I noticed immediately about Punto is that he is good defensively… I mean really good. He made several outstanding, if not impossible plays at second base – the greatest of which was a run-saving diving stop of a laser grounder up the middle by Marlins first baseman Carlos Lee. Punto had absolutely no chance of getting Lee out at first base on the infield single but had the presence of mind (and instincts) to fire a throw to third baseman Luis Cruz. Marlins center fielder Justin Ruggiano had errantly rounded third base a bit too wide and was tagged out by Cruz in a rundown for the final out of the scoreless first inning. Now I don’t mean to bag on regular Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis or utility infielder Adam Kennedy, but there is no way that either of these two guys would have made that diving stop. It was Dee Gordon-like.
For Dodger fans like myself who knew little about Nick Punto prior to his arrival at Dodger Stadium on Saturday evening, he is a 34-year-old San Diego native who attended Trabuco Hills High School and Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, California. He was drafted by the Phillies in the 21st round of the 1998 MLB Draft and made his major league debut on September 9, 2001, hitting a pinch hit single in his first MLB at bat. In his 4 games with the Phillies as a September call-up, Punto had 2 hits in 5 at bats.
Punto played in 64 games with the Phillies in 2003 and was traded to the Twins during the 2004 off season. He spent most of 2004 on the disabled list but was the Twins everyday third baseman in 2005 and their everyday second baseman in 2006. In 2006, Punto had his career-best season hitting .290 with 45 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in 135 games. Unfortunately, he followed that up with his career-worst season in 2007, batting .210 with 25 RBIs in 150 games. He posted the lowest slugging percentage (.271) of any major league player with at least 200 ABs in a single season. His defense, however, was excellent and the reason why the Twins stuck with him.
Punto spent much of the next three seasons (2008-2010) on the disabled list. He did, however, play for Team Italy in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Punto became a free agent after the 2010 season and signed a one-year/$700,000 contract with the Cardinals in 2011 (talk about great timing). He played in 63 games and hit .278 with the Cardinals and went 3 for 14 in the 2011 World Series. During the off season, Punto signed a one-year/$3 million contract with the Red Sox, which was picked up by the Dodgers in Saturday’s blockbuster trade.
If what I saw on Sunday is any indication of what we can expect of Nick Punto, the other guy, he very well may end up being as big of an asset to the Dodgers during the stretch run as Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett.