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Soon after the the Gold Gloves, Cy Young Awards and MVP’s are handed out, the focus officially moves onto the upcoming season. No other sport entices its fans with the offseason like baseball. But, even with estimates surpassing 200 players hitting the open market this winter, all signs point to a boring free agency period.
The marquee names aren’t very marquee. Jason Bay, Matt Holiday, and John Lackey are far from household names. The slumping economy doesn’t help either as many teams are weary of breaking the bank for an average free agent class.
At first glance this doesn’t bode well for the Red Sox. Boston was swept in three games by the Angels and looked more like a team heading over the hill than one that is up and coming. Holes need to be filled if the team that had reached four of the last six ALCS’s wants to return to the World Series.
With a vacancy in left field, Jason Bay should be close to the top of the Red Sox wish list, but no player deserves more attention this offseason than Adrian Gonzalez. An offseason ending without Gonzalez breaking in a new cap stitched with a bright red “B” on it will only lead to another early postseason exit.
At worst, the duo will combine for one of the most feared hitting-combos in the majors. They did more than that this past year as Mark Teixeira tied for the league lead in home runs (39) and led the league in RBI (122). After missing the first two months of the season, Alex Rodriguez watched 30 balls travel out of the park and drove in 100. The two struggled at times in the playoffs, but combined to have a decent postseason which resulted in a World Series Championship.
While the Yanks have two bonafide studs, the Sox can only boast one player who slugged more than 30, and that’s Jason Bay who finished with 36.
Unfortunately for the Sox, Bay doesn’t have the plate presence a Teixeira or Rodriguez commands and he isn’t comfortable in the cleanup spot. Bay hit .234 with 12 home runs in 201 at bats last year in the four spot. He saw his greatest success at the No. 6 spot, where he hit .296 with 12 home runs 152 at bats.
The problem doesn’t only lie with the Yankees. It’s the other postseason contenders too, both American and National League. In the AL East alone, the Rays (Carlos Pena – 39, Evan Longoria – 33) and the Blue Jays (Aaron Hill – 36, Adam Lind – 35) had two players in finish the season in the top 10 in home runs.
Almost every other contender had better production out of their fourth spot throughout the year, which isn’t a knock on Kevin Youkilis. Youk just isn’t the prototypical clean up man.
Albert Pujols (47-135), Miguel Cabrera (34-103), Kendry Morales (34-108), Ryan Howard (45-141) and even Justin Morneau (30-100) in an injury shortened 139 games, all finished with 30+ home runs and 100 RBI. With Morneau out for the year, Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer combined for 60 home runs and 190 RBI.
Kevin Youkilis finished with 27 home runs and 94 RBI. Again, those numbers are not terrible, but worse than others around the league for cleanup hitter. What accentuates the problem is Youkilis’ lack of help around him.
The American League boasts a plethora of 1-2 punches that knock out many pitchers. Rodriguez-Teixeira, Mauer-Morneau-Cuddyer (not including Mauer’s 28 or Jason Kubel’s 30), Longoria-Pena, Hill-Lind. Detroit also boasted two players belting 30+ home runs, just not back to back in the lineup with Curtis Granderson and Cabrera.
As for the contenders without a 1-2 punch, the Angels make up for it with Morales in the middle of the lineup and surround him with players who get on base and tear up the base paths.
The Sox have neither.
For a bad team, in a horrible hitting ball park, Adrian Gonzalez still belted 40 home runs and drove in 99. Gonzalez accounted for 28 percent of the Padres home runs, 16 percent of their runs scored and their RBI.
The numbers are in spite of being walked a major league high 119 times and while playing for the worst offensive team in baseball. Plug Gonzalez into the Red Sox lineup and his already great numbers would resemble those of Albert Pujols. Fifty home runs and 130+ RBI are not out of the question.
The lefty would become the Green Monster’s newest best friend. Of the 40 home runs last season, 22 flew out to left or left center field. Playing at the cavernous Petco Park, Gonzo hit just 12 home runs with a meager .243 average. On the road he hit .304 with an OPS over 1.000, connecting for a home run a major league best every 10.5 at bats.
What the Red Sox lost last year in not signing Teixeira they would get in Gonzalez, and perhaps more.
The first basemen will turn 28 in May and is until contract through 2011. If the Sox do trade for him and lock him up while keeping intact the current lineup it would mean the Sox 1-5 hitters would be one of the fiercest offensive groups in the league and for a long time, not to mention a deep lineup next year.
Nobody can know for sure what the Padres would want for the face of their franchise. Former Red Sox assistant general manager Jed Hoyer now mans the ship for San Diego. He knows Boston’s depth of talent well and knows how much Theo Epstein values Gonzalez.
During last season’s trade deadline, the Sox were working on a three-team deal that would send Gonzalez to Seattle and Felix Hernandez to Boston, and Epstein offered a list of prospects to Seattle, who could pick five of them.
Reports say the players Theo was willing to part with were:
Obviously some of those names are no longer available with Masterson and Hagadone in Cleveland now (in the deal for Victor Martinez), but it doesn’t mean other names couldn’t be added like a Casey Kelly (unlikely) Lars Andeson or even Jonathan Papelbon.
In a word, yes! The Red Sox desparately need an intimidating bat in the middle of the line up. Since 2004, pitching doesn’t win championships, balance does.
In 2004, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling teamed with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez to bring the Red Sox their first championship in 86 years. In 2006, the dynamic duo was Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols. As the Sox repeated in 2007, Josh Beckett and Dice-K replaced Pedro and Schilling, but Manny and Ortiz still packed a punch. In 2008, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels got it done for the Phillies. And unfortunately for Sox fans, A-Rod and Teixeira teamed up with CC Sabathia to give the Yankees thier 27th Championship.
Currently Boston has depth at starting pitcher with a very good 1-2-3 in Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Don’t forget about Dice-K either, who was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball in 2008. The missing piece for a third World Series win in seven years is a bat.
Adrian Gonzalez is the answer.
Don’t be surprised if the Sox offer a similar 5-for-1 deal, sending five prospects in return for Gonzalez. Prospects are assets just as money is, with the exception that the federal government backs our currency ensuring its worth. With prospects, there are no guarantees.
And don’t think the Red Sox are immune to prospects busting. Craig Hansen anyone? Even if they do pan out in a worst case scenario they will be in San Diego with a team the Sox never face. Not to mention Gonzalez and his 40-50 home runs will still be with the Red Sox.
Looking at another worst case scenario: Hanley Ramirez for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. Ramirez is one of the best shortstops in the game, but not too many fans are up in arms about the deal. Beckett and Lowell have been above average at best, but great when it mattered most, silencing most fans. Gonzalez will not be above average, he will be great.
Finally, when a team is on the receiving end of a deal involving a superstar entering his prime, they usually inherit the better deal: the Red Sox with Pedro Martinez, the Braves and Angels with Mark Teixeira, the Tigers with Miguel Cabrera, the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez, and even with Lou Brock and the Cardinals.
Bottom line, Gonzalez is guaranteed to fill a glaring hole the Red Sox have. With no big bat available in free agency in the foreseeable future, Gonzalez is the only answer. Without him, the 2010 season will be like watching a re-run of 2009.