The trade appeared finished on Saturday, was dead in the water on Sunday, and on Monday, the Boston Red Sox unveiled their new first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez, to the media.
In a trade years in the making, the Red Sox sent top pitching prospect Casey Kelly, outfielder Raymond Fuentes, and power-hitting first baseman Anthony Rizzo to the San Diego Padres. In return, they get a player long-coveted by Boston’s front office.
In five full seasons in the Major Leagues, the 28-year-old Gonzalez has blossomed into one of the game’s top hitters, averaging 160 games played, a .288 average, 32 home runs and 100 RBIs. He has been an All-Star the last three seasons, finished fourth in MVP voting last year, and has won two Gold Gloves.
After a frantic weekend, the deal is finally done. But there are still questions to be answered about the trade, Gonzalez and the remainder of the offseason.
Can Kevin Youkilis play third base?
Well, we know he can, but can he play it well? He was a Gold Glover at first base, but he did play third in the minor leagues, and has played over 219 games at the hot corner in the Bigs. His UZR/150 is a very good 6.9, not far below his figure across the diamond.
Who has the best infield?
Youk should be able to handle himself well at third base. Even if he is not as good as Adrian Beltre, or even Mike Lowell, the overall package of Youk-Gonzalez is, both offensively and defensively, fearsome.
Speaking of that…
Who has the best infield, the Red Sox or Yankees?
The Yankees’ diamond of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira is one of the best in the Majors. But the Red Sox can also make that claim.
Youk, Marco Scutaro, Dustin Pedroia and Gonzalez is a pretty special infield, on both sides of the ball.
Seven of the eight have won Gold Gloves (accounting for 15 in total; Scutaro is the only one not to have won one), but Youkilis won his on the other side of the diamond and the less said about Derek Jeter’s defensive awards, the better. Both should be good defensive teams, and there is not much to pick between the two. New York might just shade it, though.
Offensively, it is much the same story. If Jeter, A-Rod and Tex have relatively bad years again, and the Red Sox stay healthy, Boston will have the best foursome with the bat.
However, if New York’s big-money guys can bounce back, their infield could produce 90-100 home runs.
For the money they are paying them, one would expect nothing less.
Who is the best first baseman, Gonzalez or Teixeira?
The Red Sox initially drafted Teixeira in the late 90s, but he chose to play in college. After the 2008 offseason, Boston had their chance again, but the Yankees swept in out of nowhere and signed him to an eight-year deal.
That was the defining mistake of this Red Sox administration, and they have been searching for something to rectify that error. Now, in Gonzalez, they have that.
Both will be in the running for Gold Glove awards, both are power hitters and both are playing in ballparks perfectly suited to their swing.
Despite that, Gonzalez hit just two fewer home runs than Tex (33 to 31) whilst playing in Petco Park, perhaps the most pitcher-friendly stadium in the Majors. Now he is at Fenway Park, expectations are high for the Sox’ new signing to tear the cover off the ball.
If he does and with defense being a wash, the Red Sox have the better player.
What next for the front office?
Who is better?
At the press conference introducing Gonzalez this morning, GM Theo Epstein said that the Sox were not done yet, and would now focus on two things: shoring up their bullpen, and finding a right-handed bat if they could.
The specific mention of a right-handed bat could signify that they are a bit less interested in Carl Crawford than they were before this trade.
With Jayson Werth’s stupid-money deal with the Washington Nationals, and the Yankees likely to push Crawford’s price tag up, it does not look good for those wanting to see the speedy left-fielder in Boston.
It is likely that Theo will still go after Crawford, but he has positioned himself to say that the front office was not that interested in him anyway.
Theo mentioned that if they found “someone who fits” then they would try and land an outfielder.
So there you go.
An available right-handed outfielder? Manny Ramirez, anyone?
How will he fare at Fenway Park?
Gonzalez put up monster numbers with San Diego, but when he was actually playing in San Diego, his stats were not as impressive. The exciting bit for Red Sox fans is that on the road, Gonzalez was far better, with a BA 40 points higher than at Petco, and almost double the number of home runs.
Move him to Fenway, with the Green Monster perfectly placed for a hitter with such power to the opposite field, and the Williamsburg bullpens in right being moved in nine feet this offseason, and his numbers could be phenomenal.
Are there too many lefties in the Boston lineup?
It is a legitimate concern. One exacerbated by the preponderance of left-handed pitching in the American League East.
The Red Sox now have JD Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez and Ryan Kalish (who, if he does not start, will likely be the fourth outfielder) in their lineup, all of whom are left-handed.
That is okay at the moment, especially when one remembers that Gonzalez hit over .330 against LHP last year, but Theo would sleep easier if he could add a righty.
Where will Gonzalez bat?
Knowing that manager Terry Francona likes to have left- and right-handed bats alternating through the lineup, the Sox starting nine could look like this (bear in mind that, as he did last year, Tito could switch the middle around quite regularly):
Ellsbury LF (L)
Pedroia 2B (R)
Gonzalez 1B (L)
Youkilis 3B (R)
Ortiz DH (L)
Drew RF (L)
Scutaro SS (R)
Salty C (S)
Cameron CF (R)
One can see where a right-handed outfielder would fit, between Papi and Drew, but even without, that lineup looks pretty good.
Where are they with the extension?
There were reports that the deal was off, on Sunday, after the window for contract negotiations closed without an agreement. The trade went ahead anyway, with Gonzalez due to be a free agent at the end of next year.
Obviously, it would be a colossal risk to give up three young prospects for what is possibly a one-year rental and it is unlikely that Theo did it just because, as he said, he got on well with Gonzalez and his wife.
The most likely scenario is that the sides have reached an agreement (somewhere in the seven-year/$161 million range) but will not sign it until after Opening Day, so the Red Sox avoid having to pay luxury tax.
How is his shoulder?
Gonzalez had shoulder surgery at the end of the season, and expects to be ready for Spring Training. He did not go on the DL with it last year, and even playing through the pain, his season was great. (That’s right, he put up those numbers whilst he was hurt.)
He says he feels fine now and since he has missed just 11 games in five years, we would be well-advised to take his word for it.
What will Tito’s nickname for him be?
Francona loves his nicknames. With Youk, Pedey, Tek, Ells, Cam, JB, Dice and Pap to name but a few, it is clear he will have one for Gonzalez. The obvious choice would be A-Gon, but that was reserved for Alex Gonzalez during his tenure in Boston, so he might go with Gonzo.
No matter what his manager calls him, the main thing is that Red Sox fans can call him their own.
And now, after a 10-year love affair with the player, three weeks of negotiations and a tumultuous weekend of rumours and speculation, they can.
Suddenly, 2011 is looking far more promising for Red Sox Nation.