The trade that saved the Red Sox

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Two weeks ago, I told you that the Red Sox were not only headed for their worst season since 1997, but that the future looked bleak, with bad contracts tying up payroll for years to come.

Since then, things have gotten worse.

David Ortiz is back on the disabled list. They lost a game, 20-2. At this point, they’ll almost certainly have the team’s worst record since the 1992 team went 72-90, if not since the 1965 team finished 62-100.

But things are looking up.

Boston had three unquestionably bad contracts on its books in early August and a fourth that didn’t make sense unless the team was competitive. In perhaps the biggest Red Sox trade since Babe Ruth went to New York in 1920 and certainly the biggest waiver wire trade ever, the Los Angeles Dodgers claimed two of those bad contracts, Josh Beckett’s and Carl Crawford’s, the other questionable one, Adrian Gonzalez’s, and they took Nick Punto for good measure.

Somehow, the Sox convinced L.A. to part with a few prospects, including promising pitchers Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster, in addition to the salary relief.

John Lackey is still owed $30.5 million over the next two years and is a long shot to justify half of that salary. Aside from Lackey, the only players signed to the Red Sox after 2012 are Dustin Pedroia, the team’s best player, and Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, its two best pitchers.

As bad as they look right now, this team has a solid core for the future with Lester, Buchholz, and Felix Doubront in the rotation and Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks anchoring the lineup. They’ll have difficult decisions to make with David Ortiz entering free agency and Jacoby Ellsbury in his final arbitration year and they may be tempted to make a splash on the free agent market, with Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke up for grabs and more payroll flexibility than they’ve had in years.

Whatever the Red Sox choose to do in 2013, the future looks brighter today than it did when Josh Beckett was pitching every fifth day and Carl Crawford was playing every fifth month.

Now, let’s ship Bobby Valentine out of town and start winning again.