Whether fans and critics think the trade was a good idea or not, what Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington pulled in dealing so many big-name stars with commensurate contracts has certainly turned some heads. Trades like this just don’t happen, and it takes a certain ability in the front office to move that much talent under the conditions in which the deal was done.
But bundled in Cherington’s epic trade is another deal that was just as big, until it and its first base mitt were used as bait for the Dodgers to take three of the Red Sox’ expensive contracts.
Just a couple of years ago, when Theo Epstein still called the shots, the Gonzalez trade was seen as one of the great maneuvers in team history. Gonzalez was the “white whale” of the organization, that perfect player the front office had chased forever. His acquisition was seen by many as a “coup,” and his seven-year, $154 million contract a relative bargain considering the offense, defense and overall good-guy perks he would bring. It was a miraculous move that would change the franchise.
What will likely be forgotten as Gonzalez fulfills those expectations in Los Angeles instead is that he didn’t necessarily come up short on his end of the bargain in Boston. Gonzalez put up great numbers, even if they weren’t the otherworldly fare some called for. He was impeccable at first base, and was also a team player in many senses, from his prolonged stint in right field as the Red Sox battled injuries to his sticking up for teammates.
But a few little somethings about Gonzalez just never jived with Boston. In a town that prides itself on hotheads (er, passion) and drama, Gonzalez was neither the crowd-stirrer nor the big-moment performer. He’s a consistent player and is altogether excellent but rarely exciting. His numbers were always going to be fine, but his numbness is what made him an ill fit, something neither he nor the Red Sox really knew this until after he arrived.
Gonzalez said as much Sunday, although he did it in a pretty poor way, considering he probably hadn’t even unpacked from his jovial cross-country flight from Boston. But Gonzalez can be understood for sounding unhappy, as he took a lot of criticism as he left — unjust criticism, perhaps, considering that he didn’t ask to leave, and it’s not a guarantee that he would have never fit in.
Without the pressure that was put on him as the rest of the team underperformed, fell to injury or otherwise kept the pot stirring all season, Gonzalez may have been long-tenured in Boston, clipping away statistically while the team won and his teammates took the spotlight. Instead, the Red Sox endured one of their hardest seasons in years, when everyone but the batboy became an acceptable scapegoat.
The chance for Gonzalez to play as he always had and work with Boston disappeared when the team showed more schisms than it had solutions. Gonzalez needed to be the level of hero that no one could really be, and the criticism was sure to follow.
No, Boston was not the perfect place for Gonzalez to play. But as Gonzalez settles in with the Dodgers, Red Sox fans shouldn’t pin the season’s problems on him or loathe him for succeeding with another team.
In the same way, Gonzalez has no reason to start taking shots across the Red Sox’ bow. He may have been asked to do more than he expected or could handle this season, but Boston ultimately paid him the greatest favor by giving him a ticket out of town. This wasn’t a jettisoning — Gonzalez was the one player the Red Sox would have really wanted to keep, and the one player who definitely would have produced had he stayed. As the team turned around, Gonzalez could have become more comfortable.
But now the memory of Gonzalez’s time with Boston will be that it was bad from the start. The great hopes of that first momentous signing, and the numbers Gonzalez put up in the summer of 2011, will fall away as Gonzalez takes potshots and the team admits that maybe the situation wasn’t the best fit. Little will be remembered of what could have been, or more will be emphasized of how the worst could have happened, and it did.
Gonzalez is not a bad guy, and he wasn’t the worst player in the world for Boston. He could have meshed with the club (and didn’t he, for a while?), but instead he had to deal with the worst of factors, much as the rest of the Red Sox did this year. He now gets a chance to fulfill his promise in another market that is just as happy to have him, and one where he personally and emotionally will be much more at ease. Best yet, he now knows what he really wants, and he’ll likely do the advance work to make it happen this time, rather than letting the situation unfold around him.
But Gonzalez shouldn’t get flak for his time in Boston. He produced in many ways and in the criticism that has been handed out, he’s only been linked in surface ways. He was not the only guy behind any of the issues this team has faced.
In return, Gonzalez should also take it easy on the Red Sox, and the fans in Boston. This is a fickle crowd, but Gonzalez was given just as much as he gave others in his time at Fenway. He ended up with the best end of this bargain, and any chirping of ungratefulness would only fulfill the few gripes that were unjustly put against him.
The only way to stop the finger-pointing now is for Gonzalez to take his bat and go to work for another town. As strange as it will be for the Red Sox and Gonzalez to move on, parting with a tip of the cap can keep the memories of the good that happened intact.
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