Two offseasons ago Red Sox owner John Henry and CEO Larry Lucchino went to Texas to meet with free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira and agent Scott Boras. Lucchino wound up calling Boras a liar in front of Teixeira, Henry e-mailed the Boston media claiming that the Sox were bowing out of the negotiations, and the Yankees bagged the switch-hitting slugger. Red Sox Nation viewed this as a major setback for years to come.
Last year at this time Theo Epstein sat with reporters at the annual Winter Meetings and declared that 2010 might be a "bridge year,'' for the Sox. The star GM suggested that the Sox might have to step back for a season while players in the farm system matured. The BoSox subsequently missed the playoffs for only the second time in eight seasons and watched their television ratings fall by one-third.
Fast forward to this first week of December 2010 and suddenly it looks like the Red Sox got their mojo back. Monday morning the Sox formally announced that they'd acquired highly-coveted All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres for prospects Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, Raymond Fuentes and a player to be named. The Sox and Gonzo have reportedly agreed to a seven-year contract extension which will probably not be announced until after Opening Day.
Suddenly, the Red Sox are back. Hours before one the biggest regular-season games in the history of the New England Patriots, the Sox put themselves back into the sports discussions in New England. Loyal legions of Sox rooters have been hungry for Gonzalez for a couple of years and finally it looks like Boston has found the guy they lost when Teixeira went to the hated Yankees.
Gonzalez answers a lot of questions for the Red Sox. His presence at first base moves Kevin Youkilis over to third and takes the Sox out of the expensive bidding for free-agent Adrian Beltre. The Sox took heat for letting swith-hitting catcher Victor Martinez walk away to Detroit, but now Boston can afford to take a chance on unproven catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Red Sox are still in the hunt for an outfielder and bullpen help, but Gonzo takes the pressure off everyone in the Boston lineup.
In the last three years, playing half his games in a pitcher's ballpark, Gonzalez has averaged 35 homers. He's had 99 or more RBIs in each of his last four seasons. He has an inside-out swing that is particularly Fenway-friendly. He also walks a ton and no team covets walks like the Boston Red Sox. With a lineup which includes Dustin Pedroia, Youkilis and Gonzalez, the Sox may play the longest games in the majors. All of those guys love to work the count, frustrate pitchers, and get on base.
Gonzo is also good with the leather. He won a Gold Glove in 2009. He had surgery on his right (non-throwing) shoulder at the end of last season and is expected to be ready by Opening Day, 2011. He turns 29 in May.
There's significant history to this deal -- not unlike the Kevin McHale-Danny Ainge backroom trading which brought Kevin Garnett and a championship to the Celtics in 2008. The top three guys in San Diego's baseball operations department -- Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod and Jose Byrnes -- all worked for Theo in Boston. Epstein, meanwhile, made his baseball bones in the front office of the San Diego Padres. Theo knew the Padres, whose payroll ranked 29th out of 30 MLB teams last year, would not pay Gonzalez after the 2011 season, while Hoyer, McLeod and Byrnes knew the best prospects in the Boston system. McLeod used first round picks on Kelly and Fuentes when he was the Red Sox scouting director.
Getting an established star for a prospect always looks good in the short team. I remember when the Detroit Tigers got starter Doyle Alexander for the 1987 stretch run. All the Tigers had to give up was ... a kid named John Smoltz.
It happens. Bartolo Colon was acquired for unknowns named Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips. In 2005 the Red Sox acquired Josh Beckett, a young starter who'd already been a World Series MVP. Parting with Hanley Ramirez didn't seem like that big of a deal at the time.
This is how the young lions in San Diego will sell the trade to their fans. Kelly could be an All Star hurler someday. Rizzo could become the new Gonzalez. And keeping Gonzo for 2011 would risk losing him for mere draft picks when he becomes a free-agent next winter.
Meanwhile, Red Sox Nation is euphoric. The Sox last week made an offer to Mariano Rivera. Boston has better starting pitching than the Yankees. And now the Sox finally found their Mark Teixeira. They are back in the game. It's like the old USA-Soviet Union/Red Sox-Yankees nukes race again.
Game on at Fenway. The future is now. No more bridges.