The Boston Red Sox traded prized first base prospect Anthony Rizzo and three other players for Adrian Gonzalez in December 2010 (per MLB.com). While Gonzalez was an established star, Rizzo was on the fast track to the majors and a budding star with the Chicago Cubs.
While the trade looked like a no-brainer at first, in the end, the Red Sox will regret trading Rizzo and others in the long run.
The 22-year-old prospect has shown he is ready for the majors. In the last two seasons at AAA, Rizzo hit a combined .336 with a .405 OBP, 49 home runs, 163 RBI and a 1.075 OPS in 163 games (per BaseballReference.com).
While that makes it easy to compare to a 162-game MLB season, it is nearly impossible to duplicate those Hall of Fame stats right away.
However, when compared to Gonzalez’s AAA stats, Rizzo looks like a player that is on the brink of stardom. Gonzalez, in 246 games spread over three seasons at AAA, hit a combined .303 with a .365 OBP a .833 OPS (per BaseballReference.com), while only hitting 31 home runs.
So, at the same point in their careers, Rizzo looks to be on pace to be an All-Star.
Though Gonzalez was proven, Rizzo was ready to be a Will Middlebrooks-type player for the Red Sox—someone who when called up would play hard, and someone who was hungry to prove himself in the big leagues.
Even though Theo Epstein loved Gonzalez, he knew what he had in the 22-year-old prospect, and so did his protégé Jed Hoyer. Hoyer, who was the GM for the San Diego Padres, was so sure that Rizzo was going to be a star that he traded for him twice—once in the Gonzalez trade and a year later when he became the GM of the Chicago Cubs.
Hoyer may have called up Rizzo too soon with the Padres in 2011, but he knew Rizzo was capable of being a star despite the initial struggles. Soon the Cubs would have a player under team control for several years. He would make an impact on the field and on their payroll similar to what Middlebrooks has done for the Red Sox.
Rizzo is under team control for up to six years, and his contracts most likely will be less than a million dollars until he reaches arbitration after his third major league season.
Conversely, Gonzalez is in the first year of the seven-year, $154 million contract extension he signed last year.
If you are wondering what people thought of him before he was traded in 2010, here is what SoxProspects.com said in their scouting report of Rizzo:
Tough-as-nails first baseman with an excellent build. Solid overall approach at the plate, good eye, quick bat speed, impressive timing. Could stand to improve protecting the plate deeper in counts. Plus gap power to all fields.
Has had some trouble with advanced breaking stuff. An excellent defender with a solid arm and surprising lateral quickness for his size. Outstanding instincts and fundamentals. Said to be a leader by example and a great teammate.”
For Red Sox fans, this may be tough to swallow, but when Epstein made comments about a bridge year he had the right idea.
Imagine a lineup of younger players under team control for at least five years and the payroll flexibility to go after a legitimate ace—something this team desperately needs.
The 2012 Red Sox, if Epstein had his way, could have had Middlebrooks at third base, Rizzo at first, Ryan Lavarnway as the backup catcher and primary DH.
Rather than signing Carl Crawford, they could have had Josh Reddick in left field.
Instead of being handcuffed by two $20 million players, the Red Sox would have enough breathing room to make other moves. The team could have retained Jonathan Papelbon, had the ability to trade Josh Beckett by eating some of his salary or they could have tried to trade for a front-line pitcher.
The team wouldn’t have been under the same pressure to win as they are now. They could have called up defensive wiz Jose Iglesias later this year and would have a lineup without a single regular over the age of 28. Dustin Pedroia would have been the oldest member of the starting nine, a leader and the perfect player for a young core to learn from.
Fans wouldn’t have been thrilled at the thought of missing the playoffs, but at least they would be watching a team full of young players that have a passion for the game and can grow to love as they develop.
The snowball effect from the 2010 offseason could have been dramatically changed if Rizzo and the other prospects in the Gonzalez trade were still with the organization. The other major piece in the trade, Casey Kelly, is off to a good start in AAA and could have soon been a replacement for Beckett if the team wanted to get younger.
While it is nice to say "what if," Gonzalez is still a really good player and despite the recent struggles, he is still capable of being the middle of the order force that Epstein thought he would be. Though with that being said, I would have preferred the younger, less expensive option. Rizzo, like Middlebrooks, is hungry and could have had a similar effect on the Red Sox lineup and locker room.
We will never know how Rizzo would have fared if he stayed in Boston, but fans will pay close attention as we always do to former prized prospects.
If Rizzo does what is expected and becomes an All-Star, and Gonzalez fails to live up to the $154 million contract, then the second guessing will never end.