When the Red Sox seemed relatively satisfied with losing Victor Martinez and were not necessarily at the forefront of the Adrian Beltre sweepstakes, it almost appeared as if there was a tad degree of complacency. That was never the case, of course. The wheels were turning in a major way, and on Saturday, they may have done enough to race the club to the top of the American League East.
By agreeing in principle to acquire first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres, the Red Sox have preempted the upcoming winter meetings with the biggest move of the offseason, and one that could remain the biggest move in baseball all the way to April.
It is the culmination of a yearlong flirtation between Boston general manager Theo Epstein and the Padres’ superstar. Padres general manager Jed Hoyer had indicated Gonzalez would be impossible to retain in San Diego’s low-priced future.
Rumors fly rampant in baseball unlike any other sport, but because of Hoyer’s contention and the fact that Gonzalez would be such a perfect fit in Boston, where Kevin Youkilis can seamlessly slide to third base and where the new first baseman can get the long-term deal he wants, this one always had legs. On Saturday, those legs apparently have reached the finish line. Finally.
When the deal is done, a handful of top prospects, including promising right-hander Casey Kelly, likely will be headed to San Diego. Unless Epstein cleaned the closet with every name Hoyer threw out there, it will be worth it, at least on paper.
Gonzalez has averaged a .288 mark, 32 homers and 100 RBIs in five years in San Diego, where half his games are played in spacious, pitcher-friendly Petco Park. His career OPS at home is .800. It is .943 on the road. If trends hold true, this is potentially a monster presence in the middle of the Red Sox’ lineup for years to come, a la Manny Ramirez, when he came in 2001 and helped alter the franchise’s path.
With all due respect to Beltre and Martinez, questions surrounded both as to whether they would indeed be monster presences in the middle of that lineup for years to come, Beltre due to the fact that his remarkable year in some ways came out of nowhere and Martinez due to his advancing age as a catcher.
Gonzalez brings with him few question marks, provided the shoulder surgery that will keep him on the sidelines until March or even April is not an issue down the road. He is a fan favorite in San Diego, not just for his production and the fact that he grew up in the area, but also for his understanding of the intangibles. He is always prepared, plays his position very well, almost never misses a game and is adored in the clubhouse. Gonzalez’s demeanor will suit him just fine in Fenway Park, where fans have been pining for him for months.
This obviously just about rules out any return of Beltre, and when he signs elsewhere, the Red Sox will receive at least one more top draft pick, potentially two. Group those with the two they received when Detroit took on Martinez and the supplemental pick they will get if and when Felipe Lopez finds a potential suitor, and you have a pretty decent haul on your hands. Even if the Red Sox still bring in someone like Jayson Werth to play left field — a move which remains a distinct possibility — and they are forced to cough up a draft choice, they will come out on the plus side, loaded with picks entering a loaded draft.
That’s what makes the loss of a guy like Kelly that much easier to take. The 21-year-old showed enough in 2010 for the organization to still think the world of him, but he had enough bumps in the road and statistical issues to suggest that he may be at least two years away from being on the major league radar.
The upcoming draft figures to be well-stocked with college pitching, meaning several hurlers that are Kelly’s age or older and relatively advanced skills-wise will be available when Boston uses up its multiple picks in the first two rounds. Essentially, the losses in the Gonzalez trade can be rectified in a year’s time.
At least that’s the hope on Epstein’s part. It’s a reasonable one.
In the meantime, the Red Sox have potentially shifted the balance of power in the American League East by getting the kind of guy they wanted two offseasons ago. Remember? Mark Teixeira? Epstein and his crew were on the verge of signing the standout first baseman to a long-term deal, only to be outbid at the last moment by the Yankees and watching New York steamroll to a World Series title in Teixeira’s first year.
There were no concerns of a Yankees coup this time. Boston had the prospects, Hoyer had the interest, Epstein had the love affair and Gonzalez had a need to leave San Diego and find a home where he could win and get paid. Finally, it all merged into one blockbuster trade.
How’s that for complacency?