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Five Cuts: Waiting on Gonzalez extension smart move by Red Sox


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox aren't worried about getting first baseman Adrian Gonzalez signed to an extension after acquiring him in a trade from San Diego. Indeed, the parameters are in place for a seven-year deal for $154 million, according to one source familiar with the negotiations. But there are two reasons why the Red Sox are smart to wait.

First, Boston wants to make certain that Gonzalez comes through his shoulder surgery just fine. "Wouldn't you with that much money?" said one team source.

The procedure, which Padres GM Jed Hoyer described as a simple "clean up," is not a risky one, but could at least cause Gonzalez to get behind schedule and off to a slow start, which had concerned the Padres about reducing his trade value if he had remained with the club.

Mostly, though, waiting simply makes good business sense. It keeps $4.11 million in Boston's pockets, essentially helping to pay bonus money for draft picks to replace the three prospects the Red Sox traded to San Diego.

Here's how it works. For exceeding the Completitive Balance Tax for a second straight year in 2011, Boston will pay a 30 percent tax on every dollar it spends above $178 million. That means Gonzalez's 2011 salary of $6.3 million carries a tax of $1.89 million.

But if Boston officially signed him to that $154 million extension prior to Opening Day, Gonzalez would go in the books as a $20 million a year player -- for multi-year deals, the average annual value of the contract is used -- and carry a $6 million CBT bill. So the Red Sox are likely to make the deal official after Opening Day -- after the salaries are established for 2011 CBT bookkeeping purposes.

"It makes sense whether or not" there is a health issue, one team source said.

Said another baseball executive, "Look, it's smart baseball. The Red Sox did it with [Josh] Beckett and they did it with Coco Crisp. You see it a lot and you'll see more of it: extensions announced right after Opening Day. The Tigers made a mistake with [Miguel] Cabrera a couple of years ago and got burned."

After Detroit traded for Cabrera from Florida, they settled on a 2008 contract of $11.3 million. The Tigers then replaced that contract on March 24, 2008 with an eight-year, $152.3 million contract that instantly turned Cabrera into a $19.0375 million player for luxury tax purposes.

The CBT threshold that year was $155 million. If Detroit waited until Opening Day to finalize the Cabrera deal, its payroll would have come in under the threshold at $153.1 million. But the extension pushed its payroll to $160.8 million, and because of that the Tigers were hit with a tax bill of $1.3 million.

Opening Day was seven days away. Those seven days cost Detroit $1.3 million.

Hoyer said he never was worried his deal with Boston would fall apart, knowing Gonzalez would not walk away from that kind of money, in one of the few major markets he wanted (translation: could afford to give up players and a boatload of cash) and a ballpark tailored for his swing.

Gonzalez in Fenway Park is the best fit in Boston since the Red Sox drafted Wade Boggs in 1976. Hoyer predicted Gonzalez would be "a monster" in that park. Here's why: the batting and slugging averages for Gonzalez and for the average NL lefthanded hitter when hitting the ball to leftfield:

Talk about opposite field power. The guy bombs the ball to leftfield, which may turn him into a 50-doubles hitter with the help of Fenway's Green Monster. (San Diego's Petco Park ranked last in doubles factor; Fenway was second.) Last season Gonzalez had 64 extra-base hits: 20 to rightfield, 21 to centerfield and 23 to leftfield.

Hoyer and Pat Gillick sat in the same chair. Literally. By about an hour or so did Hoyer follow Gillick into the news conference room at the winter meetings Monday, settling into the chair Gillick had used upon the announcement that he was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Expansion Era Committee. (I was one of the 16 persons serving on the committee that elected Gillick.)

The juxtaposition of Gillick, 73, and Hoyer, who turns 37 today, was striking because Gillick shared a lifetime of wisdom while Hoyer is the product of a young generation of executives tempted by the dazzling technology and information of today.

"When I started out in this game," Gillick said about building a winner, "I thought it was 70 percent ability and 30 percent character. And the longer I've been in it, I think it's 60 percent character and 40 percent ability. Because if you're going to be out there through spring training and 162 games, you need people with character."

Gillick is the first general manager of the modern era to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, working a wholly different baseball world than did George Weiss, Branch Rickey and Larry MacPhail, the other Hall of Famer general managers who among them last held the job in 1966. Gillick is a most deserving choice, having built the expansion Toronto Blue Jays into the only franchise to win back-to-back World Series titles in the free agent era other than the New York Yankees. Moreover, he also won division titles in Seattle and Baltimore and another World Series in Philadelphia.

The man's humility is a powerful force and his knack for finding the right finishing pieces to a championship team was remarkable. So Gillick's lesson learned about the imbalance between talent and character should be revered.

In his own way, Hoyer acknowledged the wisdom of knowing who a player is as much as what he can do. Hoyer had two other serious trade options for Gonzalez: one with the Cubs and another with the White Sox. The Cubs didn't want to include ready-made young players such as pitcher Andrew Cashner. The White Sox didn't have as many good young players to choose from as Hoyer would have liked.

In the end, Hoyer thought he could have found "similar" deals in terms of pure talent coming back from the Cubs or White Sox as he did with Boston. But Hoyer worked in Boston and his assistant, Jason McLeod, was the scouting director in Boston. They knew well pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Rey Fuentes.

Hoyer said the comfort of knowing the makeup of the three players helped clinch the deal, rather than taking a flier on a prospect somewhere else without knowing his character.

"Perhaps the biggest anxiety you have in any trade is the unknown," Hoyer said. "You don't know the player, you don't know the personality, you don't know the toughness. All of that is taken out of the equation in this trade for us."

So what did Hoyer get? Several other GMs said they didn't like his haul because he obtained no major-league-ready talent. But outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, one of the names discussed, represented only a three-year return -- all of them expensive arbitration-eligible seasons. Kelly, the key to the deal for Hoyer, profiles as a No. 2 starter behind Mat Latos as soon as 2012. Rizzo is a cancer survivor whose makeup "is off the charts," Hoyer said. And Fuentes is a burner who fits well in spacious Petco Park. In all, Hoyer did well, knowing he had to trade Gonzalez and was limited to major market teams with prospects.

I warned you a month ago: when it comes to Jayson Werth, beware paying middle-of-the order money for a guy who is not a middle-of-the-order hitter. The Washington Nationals went ahead and made the mistake of rating a very good player as a great one and a franchise cornerstone. It could be Bobby Bonilla with the Mets all over again.

It's great for Washington that it added Werth, a valuable player who should age well, but wrong-headed to pay $126 million over seven years and expect a complementary player to bat third or fourth, influence the clubhouse and be a face of the franchise.

"Don't ask him to be the guy," one Phillies source said. "He's not that kind of player. He doesn't respond well to that. We know that."

Washington GM Mike Rizzo disagreed, saying, "We feel the bigger the stage, the better he performs."

Well, that would represent a huge profile change for a guy who is 31 years old. The bottom line is the Phillies never trusted Werth to hit third or fourth, not even with injuries to other starters and not with an obvious need to slot a righthanded bat between lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. He hit third or fourth only 12 times in 2010 and just 47 times in his career.

Werth never has driven in 100 runs and he is a .272 career hitter who is noticeably worse with runners in scoring position (.260) and much worse yet with two outs and runners in scoring position (.239). His splits in 2010 were even more extreme: .296 overall, but .186 with RISP and .139 with two outs and RISP.

The Phillies know this guy better than anyone and they believe he's not a cornerstone player. So why would the Nationals make such a leap? Rizzo was right when he explained that without a winning track record, his club has to pay a premium to get free agents. But this much?

Here's another take from a rival GM about the expensive price: Werth's agent, Scott Boras, is a master at exploiting "a disconnect between [a] GM and owner," selling ownership, particularly a middle-market one with the money and desire to step up in class, on expensive players as part of a blueprint that typically is drafted by a general manager. Under the GM's theory, Washington's Mark Lerner (Ivan Rodriguez, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Werth) follows Detroit's Tom Ilitch (Rodriguez, Magglio Ordoñez, Kenny Rogers) who followed Texas's Tom Hicks (Alex Rodriguez, Chan Ho Park, Mark Teixeira) in buying Boras clients as a key part of a building plan. Such a theory may overstate Boras' reach. But the Werth deal proves again Boras might be the only agent in the business savvy enough to need only one team to drive up a price.

Former players association executive director Marvin Miller missed election to the Hall of Fame by one vote from the Expansion Era Committee. Miller, 93, is next eligible for consideration in 2013 when the Expansion Era Committee is scheduled to meet next -- with what could be a packed ballot.

The 2013 Expansion Era ballot, which is compiled by an Historical Overview Committee appointed by the Baseball Writers Association of America, will be full of outstanding candidates. Miller, as well as late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, could be returning candidates on a ballot in which eligible candidates also will include former managers Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Lou Piniella and Cito Gaston as well as former Braves GM John Schuerholz.

The 16-person Expansion Era Committee is limited to voting for no more than five candidates.

Better book rooms in Cooperstown now for the 2014 induction ceremony, which could last for hours. In addition to the crowded Expansion Era ballot, the player ballot the BBWAA will consider for that induction class will include first-time eligibles Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina. Imagine the anticipation in Atlanta alone if former Braves Cox, Schuerholz, Maddux and Glavine all are up for election in the same year.