Boston Finally Gets Their Man
The Boston Red Sox held a press conference early Monday morning to make an announcement that has been in the works for over two years. Joined at Fenway Park by principal owner John Henry and General Manager Theo Epstein, newly acquired first basemanÂ Adrian GonzalezÂ was introduced to the Boston media for the first time. To his credit, Gonzalez seemed as though he had long been ready for the day:
â€œI had five incredible years in San Diego, where I grew up trying to play in the Major Leagues and be a Padre. But my second dream was to be a Red Sox and so Iâ€™m very excited to start this new phase. I look forward to a lot of World Championships.â€
Gonzalez later referenced his readiness to â€œbeat the Yankeesâ€ which certainly will win over fans in Red Sox Nation in almost no time. But with the evolution of talent within the AL East the Yankees are no longer the only team that Boston needs to worry about, or get past for that matter. However, adding a player such as Gonzalez will go a long way towards helping the Red Sox remain competitive in baseballâ€™s toughest division â€“ a division that continues to grow stronger.
That fact is one of many reasons why the Red Sox have been trying to acquire Gonzalez since at least 2008. Gonzalez will turn 29 just a month into the 2011 season. He has managed to remain healthy, appearing in a minimum of 156 games played over the past five seasons in San Diego. Over those five years and parts of two more with Texas, he averages a .284/.368/.507 line with 32 HR and 99 RBI. He has been selected to each of the past three All Star games, has won two Gold Glove Awards, and has finished in the Top 20 in NL MVP voting for each of the past four seasons.
Gonzalez, who reportedly was also being pursued by both Chicago franchises, is scheduled to make $6.3 Million in 2011 in the final year of a contract extension he signed with the Padres in 2007. He and the Red Sox did discuss a contract extension after the parameters of the trade were agreed upon but the two sides were unable to come to an agreement. However, it has been reported by multiple sources that the framework for such a deal has indeed been agreed upon. Many of these reports say that it will be either a six or seven year deal in the neighborhood of $140-155 Million. Waiting until after the season begins will actually provide some financial benefit to the organization as they would not see such an impact on their 2011 luxury tax payments. It remains unclear if they intentionally are waiting for that reason, or if the two sides mutually agreed to wait before finalizing any deal. Either way, we know the team opted to complete the trade anyways despite numerous reports that things had fallen apart completely late Sunday morning. The Red Sox will have roughly $50 Million coming off the books at the end of the 2011 season so an extension for Gonzalez is not something that will hurt their ability to field a superior team around him going forward.
Financial concerns over an extension are ultimately the chief reason why San Diego made their top player available in the first place. The Padres, while a surprising contender in 2010, have limited operational resources and need to rely on young and affordable players if they hope to consistently put a competitive product on the field. As much as they would have liked to resign Gonzalez after this upcoming season it just simply would not have been financially possible given their organizational budget.
In return, the Padres will be receiving four total players â€“ pitcherÂ Casey Kelly, first basemanÂ Anthony Rizzo, center fielderÂ Reymond Fuentes, and a fourth player to be named later. None of them are ML-ready but there is a good deal of upside within the group.
Kelly is the big name of the group. The 2008 1st Round draft pick split his time initially as a two-way player, playing shortstop and pitching. He shifted his focus solely to the mound starting in 2010 and spent the season with Bostonâ€™s AA Portland affiliate. At 20 years old and in his first full season strictly as a pitcher, the season was not as poor as his statistics may look on paper. However, he did have his struggles against the AA competition. Overall he threw 95.0 innings over 21 starts, finishing with a 3-5 record, 5.31 ERA, 1.611 WHIP, 11.2 H/9, 3.3 BB/9, and 7.7 K/9. Scouting reports continue to speak highly of Kellyâ€™s potential, pegging him as a likely #2 or #3 starter in the long run. He will likely start the 2011 season at AA again but could see a midseason promotion depending on how his early season performance goes. The Padres have no need to rush him.
Rizzo was originally drafted in the 6th Round in 2007 and his rise through Bostonâ€™s minor leagues has been a bit slower than that of Kelly, partly due to the other first basemen within the system. After spending the first month of the 2010 season with High A Salem, Rizzo was promoted to AA Portland for the first time and he handled the transition well. Combined between the two leagues he posted a .260/.334/.480 line with 25 HR and 100 RBI in 531 at bats in 2010. He shows good patience at the plate despite a high strikeout percentage, according to most scouting reports. He also was named by opposing managers and coaches as the top defensive first baseman in the Eastern League last season. Had he stayed in Boston it would have likely been a repeat of AA to start 2011 for Rizzo, again mainly due to the players ahead of him in the teamâ€™s depth charts. However, a move to the Padre organization could mean a bump to AAA at the onset of 2011.
Kelly and Rizzo I was fortunate to be able toÂ see in person this past season. Portland was visiting the New Britain Rock Cats, the AA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. Much to my excitement Kelly was slated to start for the Sea Dogs. He struggled through 5.0 innings of work, allowing 5 runs on 6 hits in what ended up being a no-decision. He did strikeout 6 batters however. His command looked to be a real strength but he was really plagued from poor defensive efforts from his catcher and infield that led to most of the runs scoring. Rizzo did go 2-for-4 on the game with a pair of doubles and 2 RBI. Overall he didnâ€™t do much that left a lasting impression from the game other than his unwillingness to toss a baseball to me as I sat just a few rows behind Portlandâ€™s dugout. He also ignored others around me, including a group of kids, so I canâ€™t really hold that against him.
Fuentes was Bostonâ€™s 1st Round selection in the 2009 draft. Approaching the draft many scouts compared him favorably to his cousin,Â Carlos Beltran, but now they are calling his abilities more like those ofÂ Jacoby Ellsburybut with more power potential and a stronger arm. Either way the comparisons are favorable ones and Fuentes will only turn 20 in February so there is room for growth. Over 144 games in the lower minors he has posted a .276/.329/.378 line in 573 plate appearances. With just 6 HR his power has yet to develop but he has stolen 51 bases over that time. His quickness and athletic ability bode well for the spacious outfield of Petco Park.
The identity of the player to be named later will not be revealed until after the Rule 5 Draft at the earliest but early reports indicate it will not be a major prospect. It will also not be a player currently on Bostonâ€™s 40-man roster. I suspect it will end up being another pitcher but that remains to be seen until an announcement has been made.
Kelly, Rizzo, and Fuentes were recently named the #1, #3, and #6 prospects in the Boston organization according to Baseball Americaâ€™s Organizational Top 10 rankings that wereÂ published at the beginning of November. Their Padres rankings will not be released until January 24th and weâ€™ll likely see all three included. FanGraphs also puts out their own Top 10 lists for each organization.Â In the updated list (post trade), the three players come in at #1, #3, and #4 for the Padres.
Gonzalez will ultimately fit in well into Bostonâ€™s lineup. He will take over first base, pushingÂ Kevin YoukilisÂ back to third base. From a defensive standpoint an infield of Gonzalez, Youkilis,Â Dustin Pedroia, andÂ Marco Scutarocertainly stands out as one of the top groups in the game. The deal also means the end ofÂ Adrian Beltreâ€™s time in Boston as he will almost assuredly not be resigned at this point. With Beltre andÂ Victor MartinezÂ leaving via free agency the Red Sox were in need of an offensive addition and Gonzalez certainly fits that mold. The team had been interested inÂ Jayson WerthÂ before he signed a megadeal with Washington on Saturday and they have reportedly shown some interest inÂ Carl Crawford. However, with Werth now off the board the competition for Crawford will surely heat up and he will likely be able to command even more than Werth received. This means Boston is likely out of the running for Crawford. The team does have financial flexibility, especially considering the contracts that will be coming off the books after the 2011 season, but they do have some remaining needs â€“ namely in their bullpen and filling out their bench â€“ so their offseason is certainly not over.
In the end, both sides seem to have gotten what they wanted out of the deal. EpsteinÂ was asked about the packageÂ he gave up during the press conference and his response was very direct:
â€œIt wasnâ€™t a situation where either side was looking to pull a fast ball on the other. This trade was all known commodities. We know Adrian really well, we know that heâ€™s one of the best players in the game. Jed knows our system well and got three great prospects. This is a win-win situation.â€
Sox fans should be pleased that the team went out and acquired some offense to replace that which has been lost. While the prospects given up are good, the deal did not necessitate giving up the entire farm to get what they desired. Meanwhile Padres fans are likely disappointed their team finally started to be competitive on the field only to trade away their top player. But some solace must be taken in the fact that at least three is a solid collection of talent coming back to San Diego, plus another player yet to be named. I think Epstein was right, the deal is a win-win for both sides.
* This post and more like it may also be found at the author’s personal blog, Blogging From The Bleachers.