The Red Sox Weren’t a Playoff Team Without Adrian Gonzalez — And That’s Why They Pulled the Trigger

Sep 23, 2010; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (23) before the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Photo via Newscom
The Sox finally got their man. Or did they? Much like Captain Ahab’s pursuit of Moby Dick, Theo Epstein landed his own white whale, albeit at the cost of the farm system’s prized jewels and without a long-term contract It was an expensive move, no doubt about it, but lying beyond the Boston-San Diego “who-wins?” question is a far more interesting angle: what does the timing of the deal says about the front office’s expectations of the 2011 Boston Red Sox? Needless to say, the early months of the off-season hadn’t gone well for the Red Sox. The departure of Victor Martinez and the expected flight of Adrian Beltre were leaving the 2011 squad far behind the curve. These two holes, combined with the club’s fragility had made the club very vulnerable to missing the playoffs in lieu of some major changes. Adding a marquee bat at one of those positions would go a long way toward making the team an AL East contender in 2011 -- and it’s possible the front office thought Adrian Gonzalez was the last and only way to make a winner out of the sinking lineup. How can you tell? Because in baseball, much like in life, necessity is everything. Yet no one seemed to be paying attention. On the surface, a vast majority of the New England and national press seem satisfied in writing off the trade as the Sox “finally getting their man.” In some ways, it’s true. Boston has coveted Gonzalez for years and they have been on the verge of acquiring the slugger multiple times. It's an easy conclusion to reach and one that no one would question. But it's also a vast oversimplification of the team's predicament and the organization's need for the slugger. In a vacuum, the timing of the deal was very poor. The free agent market was far from settling, they could have pursued a far less expensive stop gap at the winter meetings, and Gonzalez was hitting the free agent market in a year anyway. In essence, the Sox decided to forego any meaningful pursuit of a free agent corner infielder; instead, opting to relinquish three of their best prospects for one year of Adrian Gonzalez . That’s it. One year. Please save the comments about him maybe signing a long-term deal before the season begins. It’s stlll a one-year trade because Gonzalez would have hit free agency at the end of the year, signing a long-term deal then instead of now. With the Yankees all but out of the running with Mark Teixeira at first base, the Sox would have been the odds-on favorites to ink the slugger, going through Hell and high water to ensure they got their man -- meanwhile allowing them to keep Kelly, Rizzo, Fuentes, and our PTBNL. Is that a 100 percent guarantee Gonzalez would be a Red Sox in 2012? Of course not. Is there a chance he would have signed elsewhere or have been dealt to another team at the deadline? Absolutely. But that doesn’t matter in this organization. Unless the Red Sox absolutely have to, they don't make moves like this. And unless they were desperate now, they wouldn't have sacrificed their future. In the event Gonzalez would be unavailable, the would have moved on to Prince Fielder, another stop gap, or another trade. This team always has options... … because Theo isn’t stupid and because “Adrian Gonzalez,” to this organization, is just a name. And because the value he brings to the table can be found elsewhere -- so long as they aren't desperate for an infusion of talent. This Boston GM doesn’t irrationally covet players because he considers them to be “his guys.” If you know this organization well and are familiar with how it operates, you’d know that such a Gonzalez-in-Boston guarantee carries very little weight. You’d know that the Boston front office -- of any team in the league -- is proficient at envisioning creative, fluid solutions to its personnel problems. No Adrian Gonzalez would have been merely a speed bump, as was Alex Rodriguez in 2004. They would have adjusted and moved on like they have so many times. While in the past we’ve bemoaned plenty of Epstein’s moves in this web space, he deserves tremendous credit for having created an organizational philosophy geared toward the objective valuation of players while making calculated business decisions. Moving forward, what does it mean when a team historically stingy with prospects makes a blockbuster deal for one-year of a player? It means they feel the move was absolutely necessary -- which, in turn, means they feel the team wouldn’t have been able to compete without his presence. With the previous state of the lineup, and the poor alternatives on free agency, I couldn’t agree more with their assessment. Aside from a blockbuster trade, the team didn’t have many ways of making up for their losses on offense. Jayson Werth flew off the board earlier today, and plenty of teams are all-in on Carl Craword. And even then, the team already has three very capable outfielders. Werth’s five WAR would be whittled down to below a two-and-a-half gain with JD Drew’s 2.6 in right. The same goes for Crawford and Ellsbury and co. in left. A splash just isn’t as big when there’s no water in the pool. So where else could the team have turned? Catcher is a historically thin position, and no one is trading Joe Mauer or Buster Posey. First base is mostly barren of short-term free agent candidates, especially with Lance Berkman and Adam Dunn off the board. Third base is even more so. Had Aubrey Huff been on the market, things may have looked very different, especially considering he signed a two-year deal. Huff for two-years would have allowed the club to shift him to DH next season, putting both Fielder and Gonzalez in play on free agency. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and the Red Sox were stuck with precious few options if they hoped make a big upgrade. Fortunately, the San Diego route was still available and the front office wasn’t afraid to push their chips into the pot. So, is it the right move? Well, that comes down to your own personal philosophy. If you think it’s necessary for the team to be a contender most every season, then you’d certainly be a fan of this trade. If you advocate for aggressive draft spending, bonus points to you. Gonzalez' six-seven WAR will be a huge benefit to the team, even when adjusting for Kevin Youkilis' move back across the diamond. There was no bigger splash the team could have made and it's hard envisioning an otherwise competitive Boston team without some fancy maneuvering, a little bit of luck, and a lot of health. If you would rather save for the future, find stop gaps and look for creative solutions, maybe you’d rather the club hold onto what they have. Just don't expect the team to do a whole lot in 2011. In the end, it’s difficult to argue against the trade. With the off season shaping up the way it has, the Sox were firing with a six-shooter that had maybe one or two bullets left -- and forced into a corner, they opted to take one of the last shots they had. Fortunately, that blast took down a big bull. And you can rest assured that Adrian Gonzalez’ presence will be felt across the American League come April -- which may also be the deciding factor in this city's 2011 playoff push.
Sep 23, 2010; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (23) before the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Photo via Newscom

The Sox finally got their man.

Or did they?

Much like Captain Ahab’s pursuit of Moby Dick, Theo Epstein landed his own white whale, albeit at the cost of the farm system’s prized jewels and without a long-term contract

It was an expensive move, no doubt about it, but lying beyond the Boston-San Diego “who-wins?” question is a far more interesting angle: what does the timing of the deal says about the front office’s expectations of the 2011 Boston Red Sox?

Needless to say, the early months of the off-season hadn’t gone well for the Red Sox.

The departure of Victor Martinez and the expected flight of Adrian Beltre were leaving the 2011 squad far behind the curve. These two holes, combined with the club’s fragility had made the club very vulnerable to missing the playoffs in lieu of some major changes.

Adding a marquee bat at one of those positions would go a long way toward making the team an AL East contender in 2011 — and it’s possible the front office thought Adrian Gonzalez was the last and only way to make a winner out of the sinking lineup.

How can you tell?

Because in baseball, much like in life, necessity is everything.

Yet no one seemed to be paying attention.

On the surface, a vast majority of the New England and national press seem satisfied in writing off the trade as the Sox “finally getting their man.” In some ways, it’s true. Boston has coveted Gonzalez for years and they have been on the verge of acquiring the slugger multiple times. It’s an easy conclusion to reach and one that no one would question.

But it’s also a vast oversimplification of the team’s predicament and the organization’s need for the slugger.

In a vacuum, the timing of the deal was very poor. The free agent market was far from settling, they could have pursued a far less expensive stop gap at the winter meetings, and Gonzalez was hitting the free agent market in a year anyway.

In essence, the Sox decided to forego any meaningful pursuit of a free agent corner infielder; instead, opting to relinquish three of their best prospects for one year of Adrian Gonzalez .

That’s it. One year.

Please save the comments about him maybe signing a long-term deal before the season begins. It’s stlll a one-year trade because Gonzalez would have hit free agency at the end of the year, signing a long-term deal then instead of now.

With the Yankees all but out of the running with Mark Teixeira at first base, the Sox would have been the odds-on favorites to ink the slugger, going through Hell and high water to ensure they got their man — meanwhile allowing them to keep Kelly, Rizzo, Fuentes, and our PTBNL.

Is that a 100 percent guarantee Gonzalez would be a Red Sox in 2012? Of course not. Is there a chance he would have signed elsewhere or have been dealt to another team at the deadline? Absolutely.

But that doesn’t matter in this organization. Unless the Red Sox absoultely have to, they don’t make moves like this. And, unless they were desperate now, they wouldn’t have sacrificed their future.

In the event Gonzalez would be unavailable, the would have moved on to Prince Fielder, another stop gap, or another trade. This team always has options…

… because Theo isn’t stupid and because “Adrian Gonzalez,” to this organization, is just a name. And because the value he brings to the table can be found elsewhere — so long as they aren’t desperate for an infusion of talent.

This Boston GM doesn’t irrationally covet players because he considers them to be “his guys.”

If you know this organization well and are familiar with how it operates, you’d know that such a Gonzalez-in-Boston guarantee carries very little weight. You’d know that the Boston front office — of any team in the league — is proficient at envisioning creative, fluid solutions to its personnel problems.

No Adrian Gonzalez would have been merely a speed bump, as was Alex Rodriguez in 2004. They would have adjusted and moved on like they have so many times.

While in the past we’ve bemoaned plenty of Epstein’s moves in this web space, he deserves tremendous credit for having created an organizational philosophy geared toward the objective valuation of players while making calculated business decisions.

Moving forward, what does it mean when a team historically stingy with prospects makes a blockbuster deal for one-year of a player?

It means they feel the move was absolutely necessary — which, in turn, means they feel the team wouldn’t have been able to compete without his presence.

With the previous state of the lineup, and the poor alternatives on free agency, I couldn’t agree more with their assessment. Aside from a blockbuster trade, the team didn’t have many ways of making up for their losses on offense.

Jayson Werth flew off the board earlier today, and plenty of teams are all-in on Carl Craword. And even then, the team already has three very capable outfielders.

Werth’s five WAR would be whittled down to below a two-and-a-half gain with JD Drew’s 2.6 in right. The same goes for Crawford and Ellsbury and co. in left.

A splash just isn’t as big when there’s no water in the pool.

So where else could the team have turned? Catcher is a historically thin position, and no one is trading Joe Mauer or Buster Posey. First base is mostly barren of short-term free agent candidates, especially with Lance Berkman and Adam Dunn off the board. Third base is even more so.

Had Aubrey Huff been on the market, things may have looked very different, especially considering he signed a two-year deal. Huff for two-years would have allowed the club to shift him to DH next season, putting both Fielder and Gonzalez in play on free agency.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and the Red Sox were stuck with precious few options if they hoped make a big upgrade. Fortunately, the San Diego route was still available and the front office wasn’t afraid to push their chips into the pot.

So, is it the right move?

Well, that comes down to your own personal philosophy.

If you think it’s necessary for the team to be a contender most every season, then you’d certainly be a fan of this trade. If you advocate for aggressive draft spending, bonus points to you. Gonzalez’ six-seven WAR will be a huge benefit to the team, even when adjusting for Kevin Youkilis’ move back across the diamond. There was no bigger splash the team could have made and it’s hard envisioning an otherwise competitive Boston team without some fancy maneuvering, a little bit of luck, and a lot of health.

If you would rather save for the future, find stop gaps and look for creative solutions, maybe you’d rather the club hold onto what they have. Just don’t expect the team to do a whole lot in 2011.

In the end, it’s difficult to argue against the trade. With the off season shaping up the way it has, the Sox were firing with a six-shooter that had maybe one or two bullets left — and forced into a corner, they opted to take one of the last shots they had.

Fortunately, that blast took down a big bull. And you can rest assured that Adrian Gonzalez’ presence will be felt across the American League come April — which may also be the deciding factor in this city’s 2011 playoff push.

Categories: Adrian Gonzalez

14 Responses to “The Red Sox Weren’t a Playoff Team Without Adrian Gonzalez — And That’s Why They Pulled the Trigger” Subscribe

  1. GreggB December 6, 2010 at 3:34 AM #

    You are choosing to look at this as an act of desperation; it can also be seen as part of a carefully planned long term strategy, executed at the right moment when the cost was lowest. There are probably elements of truth in both views.

    In the end, the Sox are a stronger club, both short and long term. They gave up three good prospects, but also reaped five of the top 50 picks next June, which should more than replenish the farm system.

    It can be looked at the way you do, but I tend to think that the Sox management is doing an outstanding job of balancing short-term competitiveness with long-term thinking, and timing the market very well. The Gonzo deal is likely to look like a steal in light of what seems to be the beginning of a strongly inflationary period (Werth et al).

  2. Carts13 December 6, 2010 at 6:29 AM #

    Really good article. While I am a huge fan of the trade I do believe that Theo only gave up Kelly because he felt that free agency wasn't going to give us what we needed at a price 'he' could stomach. I also think ownership probably wanted us to compete this year when Theo would probably have been more inclined to wait a year and try and compete with a weaker roster for '11

  3. Dale Sams December 6, 2010 at 7:51 AM #

    I disagree with the premise of the headline for the following reasons,

    This isn't like where the Sox's main target, Teixiera went to a rival. This year the big dogs have gone to teams that IMO arn't going to make the playoffs, White Sox, Detroit, Nats, Crawford projected to the Angels…,

    and even if the Sox didn't get Beltre OR AGon, I think the Yanks and Rays are going to be weaker in 2011 then they were in 2010. I see Lowrie doing big things, the pitching improve, so now to compete for a playoff spot all is needed is for people to stay healthy. all IMHO of course.

  4. Chugg December 6, 2010 at 9:47 AM #

    It's a good trade. A great trade in fact. I only wish there was a way to keep Beltre too. If he goes elsewhere, I'll really miss those knee-to-the-ground home runs. But that said, I wouldn't trade Youk away for anything.

  5. Bob December 6, 2010 at 10:40 AM #

    For what it’s worth they agreed to an 8-year $167MM contract which makes the deal look a lot better. They didn’t give up a whole ton in the trade either, Kelly is a great prospect and he’ll look pretty good pitching in Petco, but they can live without him, especially with some of the other pitching talent on the farm. I’m not really sold on Rizzo or Fuentes either, Rizzo is good but his OBP numbers haven’t been stellar and Fuentes is really raw. With the draft that they had last June and all the picks they have coming next year the farm system should remain pretty deep.

  6. doctorogres December 6, 2010 at 12:35 PM #

    Definitely a great article. I don't think you can ever count the Yankees out though– if they can afford to sign the Captain to that stupid stupid contract they can afford wasting Tex's defense at DH.

    The prospects they gave up were good, but none were above AA and I think they're pretty replaceable. Ranaudo for Kelly, Rizzo is blocked with the trade, etc. etc. Not to mention they'll have a ton of picks and overslotting in the deep 2011 draft. That they kept Kalish and Iglesias is the amazing part.

    I still think there's at least one shot left in their gun, for a sweet OF signing or trade to reinforce their lineup vs. LHP. Do you feel lucky, punk?

  7. Dan December 6, 2010 at 12:42 PM #

    Is is possible that Kelly was hyped up to seem like a bit more than he is? He doesn't throw hard and didn't do well in his first year as a full time pitcher. Obviously that doesn't mean everything and Hanley Ramirez wasn't looking as great before we traded him, but I don't know why Kelly is such a sure thing to so many people

    • Mike December 6, 2010 at 8:47 PM #

      @Dan Kelly was highly regarded because he is 20 in AA facing batters 2-3 years older. Fastball is low to mid 90s and improved this year. He is still growing and learning. Clearly no one is a lock, and pitchers especially so, but Kelly is pretty solid now and should continue improving. And he will love Petco.

  8. M Connolly December 6, 2010 at 4:34 PM #

    I find the article short sighted and not very enlightening. The departure of Vmart and Beltre were leaving the Sox behind the curve for 2011? Martinez signed for very little more than the Sox offered and Beltre was offered a similar contract; one in fact that he had to refuse as did Martinez. Had the Sox wanted either of those players do you not think they would be here? The reality is that the Gonzales aquisition was almost a certainty either by trade or free agency. You missed the whole idea of a "bridge year" the Sox employed in 2010. The Sox brought in both players and never offered either a real opportunity to remain thus ensuring 4 picks in what quite posibly is the last draft of its kind (if the owners push through slotting the rich teams such as the Red Sox will no longer be able to just over spend for the best talent when it drops to them). The Sox traded "prospects" and not major league ready ones at that; the nucleus of the team including their ready for the major leagues talent is intact. To presume this was a knee jerk reaction or that you wait for this type of talent to preserve prospective maybes in a farm system are both quite foolish observations. Had the Sox waited for Pedro, Schilling, Veritek, Lowe etc. etc. we would still be saying wait til next year.

    • Mike Silver December 7, 2010 at 4:39 AM #

      I don’t see how you could possibly argue against the fact that the Sox were behind the curve before this trade. They were about to lose two of their most important producers from a club that has serious lineup holes and health questions.

      The Sox “wanting [Martinez & Beltre] to be here” doesn’t mean they would bend over backwards to sign either player. For Martinez, they balked at the years. For Beltre, probably some combination of performance uncertainty and length of contract. But of course they would want both players. They’re both tremendous ball players. Just because they didn’t sign them doesn’t mean they didn’t want them.

      Their departures absolutely left the Red Sox behind the curve. Without Martinez and Beltre, their lineup is a shell of it’s 2010 self. Think about it. Last year the only productive bats who made it through September were Beltre, Martinez, Papi, and Drew. Youk, D-Ped, Jacoby, and Cameron all missed huge chunks of time (as did V-Mart).

      Take Beltre and V-Mart out of the equation and not only do you lose major sources of production, but now you have a lineup whose only producers have huge injuries questions.

      Lineups like that don’t contend in the AL East — and they certainly wouldn’t cut it Boston with the standards the organization and it’s fan base heap on the club.

      To say they were behind the curve may even be an understatement.

      As for “missing the whole idea of a ‘bridge year’ “, I have to wonder where you’re getting your information. You seem to be saying that the team planned a year ago to unequivocally let V-Mart and Beltre walk. There are some problems with this.

      One, it’s incredibly foolish to rigidly plan that far in advance because of the amount of uncertainty that occurs in the MLB over the course of a year. There is so much that changes over 365 days.

      Two, a “bridge year” last season has nothing to do with my assessment of being behind the curve. What matters is the fact that they put themselves in a situation where they were playing catch-up with very few viable solutions to plug the holes in their lineup.

      That’s the definition of being behind the curve.

      In addition, the fact that the team was so far behind the curve, with so few options left, meant they were nearly heading for a second bridge year.

      And third, since you love the idea of certainty, why do you feel that there is any certainty behind planning a bridge year. The only certainty involved is uncertainty: uncertainty that prospects will pan out, that free agents will be available or attainable, and that trades will actually go through.

      Believing that this was all part of some master plan hatched one year ago just doesn’t make sense.

      Plans work because of fluidity, not rigid structure. This off season proves that those plans are very risky. The proof is the fact that there are almost no free agents left to plug up 1B/3B, or C.

  9. Gerry December 6, 2010 at 10:49 PM #

    Interesting insights, but Theo probably had a uniquely clear idea of Jed Hoyer's conundrum with AGon, about whether to trade him now, at the deadline if not contending, or taking the draft picks. Both agreed this was the best time for both.

    The Pads picked off 50% of our top 6 prospects, a haul far better than draft picks, and even with AGon's still-recovering shoulder, Hoyer got the future his team badly needs: 3 top prospects with a better than average chance of succeeding at Petco within 2 years, and a PTBNL who will at least help their farm. The Pads win! As Fenway's loss of top prospects won't damage the team or their deep farm … while gaining what is likely the best Fenway bat in 50 years, the Sox win. There seems to be no mystery to this trade.

    I've been following the Sox since Ted Williams, and IMO AGon looks alot more like Ted than Teix, apart from their talents at 1b, and fits the park much better than Teix. AGon represents more than parity. A rebuilt Pen, bouncebacks from the rotation, and a core of Ells/PD/AGon/Youk/Jed in their primes + Papi & JD = win it all this year, which is exactly what both the ownership group, Theo, the team and the fans are after having already spent so heavily to do so. We needed AGon this year AND forward, and there is NO WAY this promised extension isn't going to happen (imagine the fan response) so, including 2011's $6MM, we basically got a better hitter and fielder than Manny for Manny-money. We got our man. This is all good.

    I wonder what happened in Theo's meeting with Boras re: Beltre & Werth, and is it possible that Werth's outrageous contract in D.C. is a result of that?

    • Dan December 7, 2010 at 8:27 PM #

      Lets not go overboard Gonzalez is a very nice hitter but to say hes better than Manny is pushing it even taking home/road splits into account

    • Erocky December 8, 2010 at 10:54 PM #

      lets go fellas! need to get that Carl Crawford post up quickly! i'm in the full throws of Red Sox Hot Stove GLORY!!!

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