In late August, the Red Sox shipped a package highlighted by Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers for five players. It was a Richter-scale move, with huge names and huge salaries moving three time zones west. It also only stood as the year's biggest trade for 11 weeks. In mid-November, the Marlins sent Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and more to the Blue Jays for a seven-player haul.
Two of the largest trades in memory went down within three months of each other, radically reshaping the faces of four franchises and at least two divisions. The Dodgers and Blue Jays announced themselves as teams to be taken very seriously. The Red Sox set the stage for a full-scale restocking. And the Marlins tore down a would-be contender with the stated intention of building another one down the road.
Twenty players changed teams in the two deals. A couple have already been dealt yet again. The "buying" teams, Los Angeles and Toronto, took on a total of more than $420 million in salary commitments over the coming years. Baseball hadn't seen anything like either deal in a very long time, never mind both in the same year.
And perhaps most intriguing, one helped set the table for the other. When the Red Sox restructured, moving three core stars in Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett westbound, it signaled a continuation of an American League East power shift. The Yankees have made it clear that they are attempting to get their payroll under control before the 2014 season. With a facelift on Yawkey Way, suddenly the Blue Jays' circumstances looked a lot different.
A franchise that has repeatedly built teams good enough to win in any other division, suddenly saw a chance to win in its own. The AL East is deeper than ever, but the Red Sox and Yankees seem less threatening than their recent renditions. The time was right for the Blue Jays to pounce, and they did.
Of course, Toronto didn't stop with the Miami trade. The Blue Jays have also added Melky Cabrera and R.A. Dickey this offseason, marking them as at least a co-favorite in the ever-competitive East.
"We're feeling good right now, there's no question about it," manager John Gibbons said at the Winter Meetings. "It was a big trade for us. ... They've really done a nice job of bringing in some players. I said earlier when I got hired, now it's a job that the manager and the coaching staff to pull it all together and get the most out of these guys. But it's a good position to be in."
Likewise, the Dodgers' bold move was very much a sign of things to come, rather than a one-and-only shot. After adding roughly $260 million in payroll obligations from the Red Sox, Los Angeles spent significant coin to bolster its starting rotation with Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
However, whereas the Blue Jays seem to be taking advantage of what could be a brief window, the Dodgers are clearly announcing the start of a new era in the National League West. What New York and Boston have been to the American League, Los Angeles seems intent to be in the Senior Circuit. Expectations are going to be extremely high at Chavez Ravine.
"It's tough to win," manager Don Mattingly said. "It's tough to win the whole thing. So a lot of things have to go your way. You're in a short series, five-game, seven-game series, things can change quickly. But it is the feeling that you get in New York. ... The payroll was huge. And it was like, if you didn't win it all, you had a bad year. That's kind of tough to live in. I don't think we can think like that. I think we have to think about just the grind of getting ready to play, the journey of every day, getting better, working hard, worrying about the process, not worrying about the final result."
Yet just as Toronto had to do, Los Angeles must first knock off the 800-pound gorilla in its division. That would be the rival Giants, winners of two of the past three World Series.
As for the sellers in the two big deals, their outlooks are awfully different in the short term. Boston has turned around and started working on building a contender for 2013. Numerous winter additions have made it clear that while the Sox will have a different look, they don't intend to use 2013 as any kind of rebuilding year.
The Marlins, however, clearly have their sights set farther down the road. They've made a couple of small additions, but the plan is, undoubtedly, to build for a later date, with a roster centered on an impressive core of young pitching. Their decision was jarring, to say the least, and it's easy to see why fans would find it distasteful. But purely from a baseball perspective, it's easy to see what the Miami front office liked about the players it acquired.
And that, in the end, is how these deals will be judged. Whatever the symbolism, whatever the seeming implications, four teams made two huge baseball trades.
If the Red Sox get back to the top in 2013, no one will miss Beckett or Gonzalez in Boston. If the Dodgers win their first title in 24 years, the dollars will be an afterthought at Dodger Stadium. And if the Blue Jays finish fourth yet again, GM Alex Anthopoulos will be no hero. If the Marlins are back in the playoffs in three years, GM Michael Hill will be one.
That, above anything else, is the fun of all of this. Now we get to watch it all play out.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.