My favorite part of this weekend’s Red Sox-Dodgers blockbuster isn’t the absolutely insane nature of the trade, it’s the “… and Nick Punto” that will forever be attached to it until the end of time. Los Angeles surrendered two high-end pitching prospects and absorbed more than a quarter-billion dollars in salary obligation to acquire a star-caliber first baseman, a potential star-caliber outfielder, and a serviceable (with a chance for lots more) starting pitcher. Oh yeah, and a utility infielder.
I don’t want this to sound like an insult to Punto, because it isn’t intended to come off that way. He’s had a 12-year big league career and has a World Series ring sitting in his trophy case somewhere, with more money in the bank than I could ever possibly dream of having to my name. Punto’s had a long career and has been a serviceable player for five teams now … it’s just that he sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the other players in the trade.
The 34-year-old infielder posted a 63 wRC+ in 148 plate appearances for the Red Sox this season after having a career-best 123 wRC+ (in 166 plate appearances) for the Cardinals last summer. In seven plate appearances with the Dodgers, Punto has a single and three walks. His best years came a half-decade ago with the Twins, when he put together a 3.4 WAR effort in 2006 and then another 2.7 WAR in 2008. That’s when he was playing second and short regularly. This season he’s been almost exactly replacement level in limited time, pretty much par for the utility infielder course.
Punto is not alone in his fate as the “… and [miscellaneous guy]” annals of baseball trade history. Lee Stevens was the extra guy in the Bartolo Colon–Grady Sizemore/Brandon Phillips/Cliff Lee trade. Terrmel Sledge went from the Rangers to the Padres with Adrian Gonzalez a few years ago. You surely remember Ron Mahay, but how many remember him going from the Rangers to the Braves in the Mark Teixeira trade? Leroy Stanton was part of the Nolan Ryan-led package that sent Jim Fregosi to the Mets. Baseball history is littered with these extra guys thrown into massive, franchise-altering trades, and Punto is better than pretty much all of them.
The Dodgers recently lost Jerry Hairston Jr. to a season-ending hip injury and are still being suffocated by Juan Uribe’s expensive 46 wRC+, so getting Punto in the blockbuster made a ton of sense. He can fill in at third base, spell Mark Ellis at second, sneak in a few shortstop starts whenever Hanley Ramirez needs a blow, all sorts of stuff. They needed the infield help, and they just so happened to satisfy that need as a footnote in one of the biggest trades of our lifetime.