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On December 6th 2010, Boston sports fans were treated to an early holiday gift. The Red Sox traded away four prospects in exchange for San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Already emerging as a superstar in the small market of San Diego, Gonzalez has experienced far more publicity and attention in Boston than he ever received anywhere else over the length of his career.
After being drafted by the Marlins and and playing for the Rangers and Padres, Theo Epstein landed him in Boston and locked him up with a seven-year contract worth $154 million through 2018. And despite that being one of the ten largest contracts in the history of baseball, there is hardly a whisper of it being a mistake. Through the ups and downs of the 2011 season, he has exceeded the great expectations put onto him by fans and the media, and is deservingly being mentioned amongst the best players in Red Sox history.
It is truly amazing that one player can perform as well as he has through this season, but Gonzalez is exactly that: amazing. When he’s going well, he has the perfect swing for a left-handed power hitter, with the ability to pull off speed pitches into right field for base hits and to flick his wrists and drive fastballs the other way with poise. His ability to fit in the Boston clubhouse is remarkable, it’s as if he’s been here for years and now he’ll have to opportunity to be a leader on a championship quality team for a while.
Since their most recent championship in 2007, the Red Sox front office has brought in several players to help them with a “win now” attitude. This last offseason appeared to be one of the greatest in franchise history with the Sox not only acquiring Gonzalez but also signing speedster and longtime American League East rival Carl Crawford from the Tampa Bay Rays. While Crawford’s numbers and production haven’t lived up to his contract in 2011, he has the length of his time in Boston to make up for his effective season long slump. There have been other acquisitions who have fit right into the Red Sox picture over the last few years though.
In 2008, Jason Bay came to the Red Sox via a surprise deadline trade between the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh, and Boston. His role was to replace one of the most iconic players in the history of the Red Sox in Manny Ramirez, who had worn down the team and ownership with his antics over the years. Bay fit in nicely, with postseason success right off the bat in 2008, when he went 5-9 in his first two playoff games with two home runs. While most would not argue he was a better player than Manny, he certainly did not come with the enigmatic personality that essentially drove Ramirez out of Boston.
Bay’s departure from Boston was slightly controversial though, with all sorts of swirling rumors as to whether or not the Red Sox would be bringing their star left fielder back after he hit free agency. At one point, Bay even seemed to have agreed to a contract with Boston before a medical issue noticed by the Sox opened the door for the New York Mets to acquire him the next winter.
At the 2009 trade deadline, the Red Sox followed up their surprise acquisition of Bay the previous year by dealing for Indians catcher Victor Martinez. Seen by many as one of the best offensive catchers in the game, Martinez fit right into the middle of the Sox lineup, though his defensive abilities behind the plate were not always up to par. Martinez batted .336 after being traded to the Red Sox, and followed it up by hitting 20 home runs the following season. Like Bay before him, Martinez also left the Red Sox in free agency after just a year and a half with the team, but said it was “the best time of [his] career.”
With Gonzalez, the future appears to be very bright given the success he’s already had. Through 142 games this season, Gonzalez is batting .340 with 25 home runs and 108 runs batted in. He’s played gold glove caliber defense at first base and has been a big reason for the success of the team throughout the season, naturally putting him in the middle of the most valuable player conversation. He’s also one of the nicer guys in baseball, with a quiet demeanor and ability to always put the team ahead of himself. If Gonzalez continues to play the way he has been this season for the length of his contract, he’ll naturally become a lock for Cooperstown.