That appreciation has reached new levels since Epstein pulled the trigger on a December trade that brought Gonzalez to Boston from San Diego, making the formal announcement of a Gonzalez contract extension that much more satisfying.
“We couldn’t ask for more from him as a player and as a person,” Epstein said after announcing a seven-year, $154 million extension for his slugging first baseman Friday at Fenway Park. “Just in the brief time we’ve been around him, every day we’ve seen how he fits in our clubhouse, provides some leadership during some difficult times like the ones we’re going through right now. He’s the perfect fit for this lineup, this ballpark and this organization, and we couldn’t be happier.”
That happiness is reflected in the numbers — the contract is the ninth-largest in the history of the game. It also lies in the ease with which Gonzalez has become acclimated. Although neither the team nor Gonzalez wanted to start their partnership 2-9, it gave him the opportunity to show that he brings much more than 40-homer potential.
That character came out even during the news conference Friday. When a general inquiry into the team’s early struggles was thrown out to either Epstein or Gonzalez, it was the player who cleared his throat, leaned forward and got to the heart of the matter.
“We are disappointed,” Gonzalez began. “You never want to start this way. But we have faith in ourselves. We know we’re better than a 2-9 start and we’re going to turn this around. The one good thing about starting 2-9 is you’re going to win a lot more games than you lose going forward. I’m fully confident that come mid-September, we’re going to be in the middle of a pennant race and in a position that we’re going to make the playoffs.
“How do we do that? We play better baseball. We play the baseball that we know we can play. That’s going to turn around and it’s going to turn around quickly.”
The response was very authoritative, and emblematic of what has impressed the players and coaching staff so early in Gonzalez’s tenure.
When the Red Sox and Padres agreed on the deal back in December, an extension was contingent on Gonzalez proving that his surgically repaired right shoulder was OK. But before he could get that chance, the two sides had to find a common ground. Gonzalez and his agent, John Boggs, both said Friday that they did have a moment of doubt after a 48-hour negotiating window closed after the trade.
However, a trust had developed, and enough agreements in place so that an extension could be put together once the shoulder recovery was complete. Gonzalez told anyone who would listen that he would be ready for Opening Day. He was, and is one of just four Red Sox players to start all 11 games so far.
Once that final hurdle was cleared, the thought of Gonzalez calling Boston home for several years began to become a reality. And despite the hefty price tag, that reality is one that Epstein feels will make Friday’s announcement “a major day for the organization.”
“He is someone whose character we trust going forward,” Epstein said. “When you make this kind of commitment I think you have to be really comfortable, not only with the player but the person. As Adrian has alluded to, we can vouch for his character going forward. If you’re going to bet on one player, we’re very comfortable betting on Adrian Gonzalez.”
It’s a $154 million bet, but one Epstein’s been thinking about making for more than a decade.