Games without frontiers.

Matt Harrison’s start last night was arguably his finest as a pro.

A year earlier, to the day, was one of his worst.

It was the second of three straight blowout losses at home to the Red Sox, and a third straight subpar effort for Harrison, this one a 13-2 pasting in which he was hammered for four hits on five runs before his teammates had come up for their first at-bats.  He ended up yielding seven Boston runs in five innings, and was skipped the next time through the rotation before solidifying a spot in the playoff rotation with a good September.

In that Boston blowout in Arlington on August 24, 2011, Josh Beckett gave the Sox a strong six (one run on four hits).  Adrian Gonzalez homered.  And Carl Crawford homered.

On August 24, 2012, Harrison was dramatically better.

And Beckett and Gonzalez and Crawford made even more dramatic news.

It’s kind of cool to see a star player going from the American League to the National League, something that seems to happen very rarely these days, but Boston kills the Dodgers in this nine-player blockbuster that has just gone down.

I’m surprised the Dodgers couldn’t have leveraged the deal so that they didn’t have to give up Rubby De La Rosa or Allen Webster, given the phenomenal favor they’re doing Boston by taking on about $140 million of the guaranteed money still owed to Beckett and Crawford just to get Gonzalez and the six-plus years and about $130 million left on his deal.  Trying to crush with explosive spending tends to work less reliably than relentless scouting and solid player development and shrewd trading and timely hits in free agency, but OK.  Best of luck.

One club executive said to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports: “If you’re going to spend more than $250 million, is this the way to do it?”

No, I think most would agree, but it reflects two things:

1.  That the Dodgers’ new owners, having already taken on the two and a third years and $36 million left on Hanley Ramirez’s contract and putting in revocable waiver claims on Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton, managing to make a deal with Philadelphia for the latter (given the timing of when the Phillies ran the two starters on waivers and the Dodgers claiming both, I wonder if there was an effort by those two teams to put together a Lee-Blanton package deal much like Boston and Los Angeles have done), are in a mood to spend a lot of money.

2.  And that with an extremely weak free agency class this winter (especially with the elimination of Cole Hamels, whom many figured would end up in Los Angeles this winter before he extended in July with the Phillies, and the heavily diminished value of Melky Cabrera), maybe the Dodgers figured acquiring Gonzalez now – even at the expense of having to acquire Beckett and Crawford too – was a better idea than competing with half a dozen clubs to sign Josh Hamilton.

Of course, the way the Dodgers are rolling, who’s to say they’re going to sit out of the Hamilton chase?  I suppose they could trade Andre Ethier to make space in the outfield.

All of could very well have an impact on the Rangers’ winter.  On the one hand, maybe Hamilton is less likely to leave.  Los Angeles seemed to be a likely contestant for the free agent, Boston perhaps less so.  Will the Red Sox enter a rebuilding phase?  They’ve ditched off three veterans on long-term deals, adding a couple promising arms in the process.  They cleared space for Will Middlebrooks earlier this summer by trading Kevin Youkilis.  They’ll turn center field over a year from now (or less) to Jackie Bradley Jr.  Maybe they’ll shop Jacoby Ellsbury this winter as part of that plan.  Maybe they’ll shop Jon Lester, too.

Or will they use all this salary relief to lock Ellsbury up, chase Hamilton and Zack Greinke, and roll out another typical Red Sox roster, just different-looking from the last one?

I still question whether Boston is the right place for Hamilton and his family to be.  But I’m only guessing as to what really drives him.

Maybe he’ll talk to his old Rays buddy Crawford to see what that experience was like.

And hey, maybe the Los Angeles moves also reduce that club’s interest in spending big on an offense-first catcher like Mike Napoli.

It’s all guesswork.  This Dodgers stuff is frontier law.

But it does seem to be an indication that, with more teams locking up their key assets before free agency than ever, leaving thinner free agent crops as a result, teams may be less willing to engage in the annual gross overspending spree in the winter, which results in contracts like the one Crawford got after the 2010 season when there was no Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder to spend on but the Red Sox were dying to buy big anyway.

It all goes back to the importance of scouting and development and building a formidable farm – so that you don’t have to rely on free agency to stay competitive, so that you can control costs by going with less expensive players when the time is right to do that, and so that you have the wherewithal to move prospects on occasion for impact veterans you’ve zeroed in on to put your team over the top.

Even that’s more difficult now, given the league-imposed constraints on spending in the draft and on the international market.

But it’s no less critical.  Just more imperative to make good decisions on that front.

The way Mike Olt has been used since coming up, including the outfield audition and no apparent place to play (especially the way Mitch Moreland has been going, including his bomb today off a lefty), has had me thinking about Gonzalez’s time here and what might eventually happen with this situation.

I have full faith that Olt, if traded, will be traded more effectively than Gonzalez was.

Or maybe he won’t be traded at all.

And maybe those rumors last month that Boston talked to Texas about Ellsbury could be revived this winter, especially if the Sox really are preparing to start over.

Or maybe the Dodgers will trade for Ellsbury in the off-season and make him the first left-handed catcher since Benny Distefano.

Nonsense, but a year ago you probably wouldn’t have believed that Matt Harrison, pulled from the rotation after three terrible starts, would be the best starter on the best team in the American League one year later, or that the Dodgers, even if they were to emerge from their ownership mess, would aggressively pursue and enthusiastically agree to the economically crushing trade that’s being announced as I send this.

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