The Red Sox will break camp with 25 players heading north to Boston. We begin a daily look at each position on the club, from the projected starters to their backups. Our latest installment examines first base.
Ever since the Adrian Gonzalez-to-Boston trade became official, fans and media members have spent plenty of time wondering not only where he will hit in the lineup, but how much his move from pitcher-friendly Petco Park to Fenway Park will affect his numbers. A popular game has been to guess the number of doubles he will wind up with by playing catch with the Green Monster in half of his games. Some of the predictions are astronomical, even beyond the major league record of 67, held by Earl Webb, who hit 39 of those 67 two-baggers in Fenway Park in 1931.
Sure, that's fun to think about, but what has the organization feeling giddy is the complete game that Gonzalez brings. He will remain a potent threat in those 81 games a year played outside of Fenway, he almost never misses time, his work ethic is off the charts and he is a very good defender.
And, he's 28.
In Gonzalez, the Red Sox have acquired an almost "perfect" player, a guy whose weaknesses are minimal and who is just hitting his stride as a major leaguer while already sporting an impressive track record. Even if he doesn’t see an immediate increase in his numbers from his days in San Diego — a scenario almost nobody sees happening — he might be worth the cost of three top prospects and a contract extension of more than $150 million; Gonzalez has hit .288 while averaging 32 home runs and 100 RBIs over his past five seasons.
Most figure he will far surpass such production.
Kevin Youkilis has been a wonderful first baseman for the Red Sox since 2006, providing very similar numbers to those of Gonzalez and a comparable glove. But in being the team's primary starter at that position every year for five-straight seasons, he actually averaged only 105 starts at first base. Because of injuries, either to Youkilis or someone else he needed to replace at third, the position hasn’t been particularly stable, as odd as that is to say when an All-Star caliber player is making the majority of starts. Prior to Youkilis, the leader in terms of games played at first from 1999 to 2005 was Kevin Millar (three times), Tony Clark, Brian Daubach (twice) and Mike Stanley. None of them started more than 101 games at first in any of those years.
Gonzalez represents the possibility of both incredible production and remarkable stability. He figures to not only put an emphatic end to that merry-go-round at first base, which featured the heavy pursuit of Mark Teixeira, but could one day be called the best the franchise has ever seen at the position.
When the Red Sox lost Youkilis last August, they gave the bulk of the starts at first base to either Mike Lowell or Lars Anderson. Jed Lowrie also made a few appearances at the position and will get many more looks at first during spring training. There is a chance that Lowrie will be the primary backup at all four infield positions, making him the guy to spell Gonzalez if it ever comes to that. Gonzalez has played 156 games a year over the past five seasons, so it might never become an issue.
Of course, there is always the presence of Youkilis, but both he and the team have maintained that once he makes that move back to third base he wants to stay there. Sure, Youkilis can be used in a pinch, but the club would like to look at other options first, and Lowrie may be that guy.
If all else fails
Anderson is entering what figures to be a pretty pivotal year for him as a minor leaguer. The organization likes its position players to get a full season of at-bats at the Triple-A level. Anderson came close in 2010 with 113 games at Pawtucket, but he could use a little more time. One aspect of his game that was much improved last year was his defense. If he is called up to play first base for an extended period of time, a possible scenario if Gonzalez gets hurt and the club needs to keep Lowrie available to backup other positions, he will at least give the team a solid glove. The 35 at-bats he received in the majors last year can only help in his development.