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