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Ten things I like about Josh

Giving thanks for Beckett

You know when Ebert and Roeper slap movies with their coveted “Thumbs way up!” tag? That’s how I feel about Boston’s trade for Josh Beckett, which somehow managed to wipe away all the rancor and hostility from the Epstein-Lucchino debacle faster than you could say, “Allwegaveupwere2prospects?” Now I can stuff my face on Thanksgiving in peace.

More Beckett stories
• Gammons: Sox “no-brainer” 
• Gammons breaks down deal
• Olney: Fear the fire sale 
• Trade done, pending physicals

As it turned out, I liked a whopping 10 things about this trade. Sure, the original list was eight, so I stretched it to 10 because there’s nothing fun about a top-eight list. But who’s splitting hairs? Ten things I liked about the trade:

1. Beckett’s stats during the 2003 playoffs: Six games, five starts, 42.7 innings, 47 K’s, 21 hits, 12 walks and just 10 earned runs allowed, capped off by a complete game, five-hit shutout on three days’ rest at Yankee Stadium (earning him the World Series MVP award). And he was only 23 at the time. Considering that it’s all about beating the Yankees these days, what’s wrong with acquiring the most famous Yankee-killer of this century? How many guys have gone into the Stadium and brought the place to its knees?

(Granted, nobody really cared about the 2003 World Series — in fact, I’m not even positive it happened — but I still like the thought of Yankees fans muttering to themselves, “Crap, that Beckett guy killed us two years ago, this sucks.”)

2. It’s almost sacrilegious to compare this trade to the destiny-altering Pedro Martinez deal back in 1997, and only because Beckett hasn’t even thrown 200 innings in a season yet, whereas Pedro was coming off a sublime Cy Young award season in Montreal (241 innings, 305 K’s, 158 hits, 67 walks, 1.90 ERA). But how often can you acquire a potential franchise pitcher who’s only 25, has a World Series pedigree, and once appeared on David Letterman’s show? Here’s Jack McKeon’s postgame quote about Beckett after the legendary Series-clinching start at Yankee Stadium that would have been 10 to 20 times more legendary if anyone other than the Marlins were involved:

“I told you Josh Beckett was special. He’s got the guts of a burglar. This guy is going to be something special. I was not about to take him out in the ninth.”

That’s right, folks … he’s got the guts of a burglar. I don’t even know what that means and I’m excited.

3. Call me a sap, but I like the Clemens symmetry here — nine years after the big lug fled to Canada and decided to start doing sit-ups again, the Red Sox finally replaced him with another hard-throwing Texan who wears No. 21. Perfect. Maybe after a few 20-game seasons and some Cy Youngs, Beckett can start eating like a Shetland Pony, get hurt for four straight seasons, then sign somewhere else and hire a personal trainer. Fantastic.

(Wait, why am I bitter? We won the World Series last year! Scratch the Clemens bitterness … sorry, I was on autopilot there. My bad. Still, they better give Beckett No. 21. Clemens was the one who stepped onto the field during the “Living Legends” ceremony in July 1999 — right before the same All-Star Game that featured an ailing Teddy Ballgame’s last appearance at Fenway, no less — wearing a Yankees cap even though he’d been playing for them for four freaking months. Thanks for the memories, Rog. As far as I’m concerned, all Red Sox ties were severed that day. Beckett gets No. 21.)

4. Not sure if you realized this, but after David Wells’ Section 8, next year’s Opening Day starter was probably Curt Schilling … the same Curt Schilling who turned 39 last week and struggled famously last season after his heroic October in 2004. I’m not counting Schilling out, but do we really know what to expect from him at this point? Now we have Schilling insurance without overpaying the inevitable winner of the 2005 Darren Dreifort/Denny Neagle Award (A.J. Burnett) or putting jittery Matt Clement in the position of an Opening Day shellacking that would potentially lead to a 3-17 season. Instead, we have old Burglar Guts ready to go. Much better.

5. The Red Sox always have good luck with pitchers around Thanksgiving. On Nov. 28, 2003, the Schilling trade finally went through. On Nov. 18, 1997, Pedro came aboard. On Nov. 24, 1994, as part of his rigorous training program that offseason, Clemens ate a record 11-pound Thanksgiving turkey by himself. And now, Beckett makes the move to Boston this week, assuming his blistered middle finger passes the team physical — and even if it doesn’t, that would still lead to a series of “Beckett gives middle finger to Sox trade” headlines, which would be almost as enjoyable as the actual trade. Good November karma all the way around.

6. Since the trade will be well-received by just about any rational Red Sox fan who doesn’t play contrarian with the “He’s never pitched 200 innings” and “he’s been on the DL 11 times in five years, with nine of those times coming because of a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand!” cards, hopefully this proves to worried Sox fans that it is possible to survive in the post-Theo Era. Especially when you can spend $120 million to $130 million per season and absorb a ghastly contract like Mike Lowell’s deal (two years, $18 million remaining) to get Beckett without even blinking twice.

(Note: As for the contrarians, just remember — Beckett was born on May 15, 1980, Papelbon on Nov. 23, 1980. You can’t be excited about the Papelbon Era and worry about Beckett’s health in the same sentence, not when Papelbon has pitched 37 major-league innings and Beckett has pitched 652. Plus, the Marlins were probably too cheap to spend money on a real team doctor — every time Beckett developed a blister, some clubhouse attendant named Luis probably gave him two Band-Aids and a slap on the back. I’m not worrying about this.)

7. Speaking of Lowell, I’m excited for this aspect of the trade — has there ever been a Red Sox player making nine million per year who carried no expectations whatsoever? If he stinks, well, he’s supposed to stink — he’s the lemon we had to take to get Josh Beckett. If he shows any rejuvenation at all, it’s a bonus. Worst-case scenario, he replaces Kevin Millar as the team’s “right-handed slugger who used to hit for power right up to the year they started testing for steroids, I’m sure it’s just a crazy coincidence” guy. Every team needs one of those guys — it’s always fun to compare before/after photos on the Internet, make those “wow, in 2003, that’s out of there!” jokes after every warning track fly ball, and so on. Then, if the guy starts hitting again, you can make the “uh-oh, looks like someone’s getting B-12 shots from Miggy Tejada again!” jokes. Really, it’s a no- lose all the way around. I’m already enjoying the Mike Lowell Era.

8. They didn’t give up smoking-hot lefty prospect Jon Lester in the trade. Apparently this was huge. I have never seen him pitch, don’t know what he looks like, couldn’t tell you one thing about him other than that his minor-league stats look good (148 innings, 114 hits, 163 K’s at Double-A), have no idea if he’ll amount to anything … but still, I’m very excited that we didn’t give up Jon Lester. With Beckett, Papelbon and potential closer Craig Hansen, the Sox suddenly have four 25-and-under pitchers playing key roles next season, with Schilling assuming the role of Koglan in “Cocktail” as he dispenses wisdom to the young dudes throughout the season, stuff like “Here’s how you throw a splitter” and “See that guy with the red curly hair holding a tape recorder? Don’t talk to him.”

(Note: Isn’t it weird how you can grow attached to these faceless baseball prospects who you don’t really know anything about? When they brought up Papelbon last summer, I almost felt like he was part of my family. Jon Papelbon! I’ve been waiting for this day for years! I could be telling my grandkids about this someday! Of course, I said the exact same things about Kevin Morton 15 years ago. There isn’t a stranger sport than baseball.)

9. I didn’t mind giving up highly regarded shortstop prospect Hanley Ramirez in the trade, and here’s why: If they thought so highly of him, why sign Edgar Renteria last winter? If you had a stud rookie in your system, someone everyone felt couldn’t possibly miss, would you shell out big bucks and a four-year deal for a veteran who played that same position? Of course not. I’m guessing the kid had a ton of potential, only they felt something was missing. So they sold while his stock was high.

Which brings me to my larger point…

10. I never get bummed out about trading prospects for established guys — if anything, I much prefer this route over rolling the dice with could-bes and would-bes. You just never know with prospects. Back in 1997, the Red Sox ended up trading Tony Armas Jr. and Carl Pavano for Pedro, with Montreal choosing Pavano over Boston’s other highly regarded pitching prospect, Brian Rose — and with the press Rose and Pavano were getting at the time, you would have thought the Red Sox had Gibson and Seaver in their system. Well, Rose never amounted to anything, Armas hasn’t amounted to much with the Expos/Senators, and Pavano parlayed one good season into a ridiculous contract from the Yankees. Of course you make that trade. Every time.

There’s a flip side, of course: The Jeff Bagwell/Larry Andersen trade in 1990. After pulling the trigger, then-Sox GM Lou Gorman explained, “We had depth at third base with Wade Boggs, Tim Naehring and Scott Cooper. It was one area where we could afford to lose a player in order to get a pitcher who could help us win the pennant. If we win the pennant with Andersen, the deal is worth it.” He then nearly choked to death on a corned beef sandwich. As it turned out, Gorman just traded the wrong guy — he should have traded Cooper, and if he had called his minor-league guys to ask their opinions, they would have told him the same thing.

Still, those Bagwell/Andersen disasters are the exception, not the rule — it’s much harder to project the fates of minor-league prospects than you might think. For instance, the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote a column in August 1990 that featured the following quote from a National League scout: “Boston’s got good depth. They’re sneaking into the top 10 pitching organizations in baseball. As far as lefties go, they’re as good as anyone.”

Well, here were the top-10 pitchers in Boston’s system (according to Cafardo’s article): Dave Owen (“he’s chunky but tough”); Derek Livernois (“a young Mike Boddicker”); Josias Manzanillo; Kevin Morton; Paul Quantrill; Scott Taylor; Jeff Plympton; Brian Conroy; Tom Fischer; Eric Hetzel. And just for kicks, the No. 1 positional prospect (ahead of Bagwell and Mo Vaughn) was an outfielder named Greg Blosser, about whom Cafardo wrote, “The mouths drop when people see him.” Out of those 11 players, the only guy who had anything remotely resembling a career was Quantrill, a half-decent reliever who bounced around both leagues for 14 seasons. Nobody else made it.

And that wasn’t the only year like that. Check out these Red Sox-related quotes from Peter Gammons in the Boston Globe:

January 1991: “It may well be that 40 years from now, the players remembered most from the early ’90s will be Roger Clemens, Ellis Burks, Jody Reed, Mo Vaughn, Jeff McNeely and Eric Wedge.”

October 1991: “Adds Twins coach Terry Crowley, ‘There’s no question that Jeff Bagwell, Mo Vaughn and Phil Plantier can be terrific major leaguers for years, but if his back comes around, I still believe the best player of all those guys will be Tim Naehring. He has that rare fire.'”

March 1994: “It has been a good spring for the Red Sox future, with Greg Blosser’s encouraging adjustments to utilize his power, Jeff McNeely starting to define his game, Luis Ortiz’s response to Frank Malzone and the eye-opening performance of Frankie Rodriguez last weekend.”

December 1994: “Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Suppan, Rafael Orellano (2.40 ERA in Puerto Rico), Benji Simonton, et al are the foundation [Sox GM Dan] Duquette hopes will have this franchise where he was hired to put it by 1997.”

December 1996: “Robinson Checo, [Aaron] Sele, Jeff Suppan, Carl Pavano, Brian Rose and Peter Munro may all be potential 15-game winners come 1998.”

Here’s the point: You never know with prospects. But you know with World Series MVPs. And that’s why I’m giving this deal the thumbs way up.

(Now if we can only figure out who actually made the trade…)

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine and his Sports Guy’s World site is updated every day Monday through Friday. His new book “Now I Can Die In Peace” is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.

Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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