Finally, he's arrived in Boston.
What, the Jason Varitek signing didn't do it for you?
If ever a team needed a blockbuster move to reinvigorate a slumbering fan base and reignite its championship chanced, it was the Boston Red Sox. And if ever a perfect move were available, the Sox found it.
The speculation has lasted longer than a year. It was on and off and on and off again. And now, finally, according to numerous reports it appears to be official.
The Red Sox are acquiring Adrian Gonzalez.
This is the biggest move the Sox have made in years. Forgive me, but J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo don't do it for me. Mike Cameron is highly likeable, but highly replaceable. And don't even get me started on Daisuke Matsuzaka.
This is the sort of move that lays the groundwork for another championship. Which, up until a few days ago, nobody was sure was still a priority for everyone in the Fenway Park offices.
With this one move, though, that is no longer a question. And, remarkably, the deal appears to have gone down about as perfectly as you could have asked from a Red Sox perspective.
From V-Mart to A-Gone.
In the wake of Victor Martinez signing in Detroit, and the recent purchase by Red Sox ownership of a European soccer club, the Red Sox needed to do something to let the fans know a championship-caliber baseball team was still a priority.
It's difficult to describe the tenor of the reaction following Martinez's signing with the Tigers without using four-letter words. After an empty off-season and a boring regular season last year, interest was inarguably fading. And the Sox were being blamed for handling business like a small-market team, refusing to give Martinez what amounted to $2 million more per year.
After losing Jason Bay and failing to land any significant free agents last year, it appeared a rather frustrating trend was developing.
This is the perfect response. It gives the Sox a thunderous bat in the middle of the order, and it gives the impression that Sox management does, in fact, have something resembling a plan.
As recently as Friday night, nobody was quite sure of that.
Who wanted this guy, anyway?
The Sox missed out on Mark Teixeira. We get it. But talking heads like Tony Massarotti refused to let it die, pointing to that signing as the singular event that set the Yankees in one direction and the Red Sox in a decidedly less successful one.
But that's done now. In Gonzalez, the Red Sox have a more than reasonable facsimile of Teixeira. In fact, Gonzalez is nearly a mirror image. He hits for average. He hits for power. He has a pair of gold gloves in his closet to vouch for his defensive prowess. He's a good character guy.
If he could switch-hit, he might be confused as Teixeira's twin.
In my personal opinion, I'd rather have Gonzalez. There's always been something about Teixeira that rubbed me the wrong way, an underlying arrogance that put me off. It took two years, and the Evil Empire pocketed some championship bling in the meantime, but the Sox have answered and answered emphatically.
And officially put to rest the Teixeira whining.
May it rest in peace (finally).
Jose Iglesias isn't going anywhere
That may not appear to be the case at first glance. The deal reportedly will include top pitching prospect Casey Kelly - considered the No. 1 prospect in the system by many - as well as promising outfielder Reymond Fuentes and power-hitting first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
But those are all losses the Sox can absorb without missing a beat. Kelly may well be a solid pitcher, but if there's one place the Sox appear deep, it's the starting rotation. Fuentes is apparently a multi-tool talent, but he's been called an Ellsbury clone, and if the Sox hang onto Jacoby there's no loss there. And Rizzo is a slugging first baseman, which is no longer an issue in Beantown.
What's more, Epstein didn't have to give up Jose Iglesias, the shortstop with major-league defensive skills who could settle into that spot by the end of the upcoming season. Shortstop has easily been the most difficult position for Epstein to fill during his tenure in Boston. The one sure-thing prospect they had at the position is currently making enemies in Florida.
Keeping Iglesias is no small victory for the Red Sox.
Never mind the fact that the Sox (reportedly) won't have to include Ryan Kalish, Josh Reddick, Lars Anderson or a number of other prospects.
Is Mr. Crawford next to pack his bags for Beantown?
Nobody was quite sure where the Red Sox were going this winter. And until some sort of move was made, that was going to remain a mystery.
But now, with the single biggest item on the off-season checklist already taken care of, the Sox can set about the equally-crucial business of filling out the roster.
They can find a few arms to bolster a sluggish bullpen, a major concern that can now get the bulk of Theo and Co.'s focus. They can also focus on filling the outfield without the pressure of netting either Carl Crawford of Jayson Werth.
Pursuit of one or the other would certainly still be recommended, and if one happens to sign on the dotted line in Boston, nobody would be complaining. But with Gonzalez in the fold, there is less pressure to fill the vacant outfield spot with a superstar.
I'd still take Crawford or Werth in a second, but there will no longer be a storming of the Fenway Park offices if both happen to slip through the cracks.
It would have been hard to part with your ownly reliable reliever
Rumor had it Jacoby Ellsbury or Daniel Bard - or both - would have to have been involved in the proposed trade for Arizona star Justin Upton. That would have certainly given the Sox a developing star, but would have filled an outfield spot they already have filled (with Ellsbury) and left a gaping hole in an already porous bullpen.
That Epstein was able to snag Gonzalez without mortgaging any part of the present is a testament to his effectiveness in trade negotiations. Say what you want about his free agent signings - and there's plenty of bad stuff to say (Drew, Lugo, Matsuzaka, Lackey, Smoltz, Penny...the list goes on) but has proved time and time again a genius when it comes to trades.
He turned Manny Ramirez into Jason Bay. He plucked Victor Martinez from the Indians without having to part with Clay Buchholz. And, if reports are true, he's pocketed Gonzalez without giving up Ellsbury, Bard or any other contributing member of the current roster.
Hard to argue with that.
You'll be seeing Kevin Youkilis on the other side of the diamond ... for good this time
Kevin Youkilis is a Gold Glove first baseman, and yet every season he came into spring training wondering which corner of the infield he'd spend most of his time.
A natural third baseman, Youkilis has long said he doesn't care which position he plays, as long as he can play only one and not have to worry about switching every other day.
And now, finally, he can. Youkilis can settle back in at the position he was groomed to play originally, and can do so with the comfort he won't have to shift around the diamond at a moment's notice.
No doubt Youkilis will keep his first baseman's mitt in his locker. But at least he knows that's where he can plan to keep it for the foreseeable future.
Beltre did everything the Red Sox could have asked
Adrian Beltre did everything the Red Sox could have asked for and a lot more last year. He was sturdy at third, a gamer who played through injury and by far the team's most consistent and productive hitter.
But netting Gonzalez is a much smarter move than signing Beltre to a long-term deal.
While Beltre's swing appears tailored to Fenway Park and would no doubt remain productive, he has had a frustrating habit of producing monster seasons only in contract years.
Is it possible for him to replicate his production this year and beyond? Sure. But I wouldn't want to count on it. Especially if I had to count the $70 million or so it would have taken to keep him.
In Gonzalez the Sox have more of a sure thing. For a long, long time.
Spike him, Ortiz!
David Ortiz is among the greatest Red Sox of all-time. But he's near the end of the road. And the Gonzalez acquisition makes for the smoothest possible transition.
How better to replace a sweet-swinging, down-to-earth lefty than with another sweet-swinging, down-to-earth lefty?
Ortiz is the rare player whose value isn't measurable only in numbers, even if those numbers have always been eye-popping. But the fact of the matter is Ortiz has been the face of the franchise for several years, and even if he's been slowly losing his thunder, it was still going to be something of an odd transition to the post-Ortiz era.
The Sox have the slugger they've been searching for ever since Ortiz started to decline. And he happens to look and play an awful lot like Ortiz.
Only with a functional glove.
These guys are in the Red Sox's crosshairs
This is more important in regards to perception for the fan base. But it doesn't hurt to add a major bat to your lineup. The Yankees have clearly moved ahead of the Red Sox since 2007, and it takes a significant move like this to make up some of that ground.
Consider the ground made up. The Sox have an equally impressive rotation, and can now boast a more similar lineup. If Epstein patches up the bullpen effectively, the Sox could even enter 2011 as the potential favorite in the division.
Nobody would have guessed that 24 hours ago.
Even those seats will remain filled this spring
This, again, may have looked like a problem of perception, but it was in fact a tangible one. Ratings were as low last season as they've ever been under the current ownership. The sellout streak remains intact, but only because of some presumed creative counting on the Red Sox part. Interest was sagging considerably.
And with the purchase of the soccer team marking the biggest deal the owners had made in the last 12 to 24 months - instead of a, you know, baseball player - it was easy to imagine - gasp! - more empty seats at Fenway.
But don't count on it now. At least not in April. This move has invigorated the region and given ownership a grace period of a few months next year. If the team continues to underachieve and the rest of the roster doesn't shake out, interest will wane again. But if the team plays as many expect it will, the butts will be back in those overpriced, uncomfortable Fenway seats.
That used to be as sure a thing as death and taxes.
And, with this move, may soon be once again.