Why the Sox should be going, going . . . going after Gonzalez
The one thing the Red Sox must do to bridge the gap between them and the World Series champion Yankees? Acquire Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
Losing out on Mark Teixeira in the offseason - losing him to the Yankees - seemed to be the biggest difference between the teams. The Yankees piled on with CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, but the Sox had comparables in Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.
Not that Kevin Youkilis isn’t comparable to Teixeira, but the Sox also don’t have Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter, either. Gonzalez, a lefthanded-hitting gem of a player, is also a terrific first baseman. As a hitter, he goes the other way - which would be a major plus at Fenway - and is a true run-producing No. 3 or No. 4 hitter.
Gonzalez, 27, has been playing in the expanse of Petco Park for years but has managed to hit for power (40 homers last season) and drive in runs (99) in a lineup that hasn’t always protected him.
Gonzalez has always wanted to play in a place where it matters, and for the foreseeable future, San Diego doesn’t matter. The ownership is structured oddly; John Moores is still the principal owner, while Jeff Moorad and his investors, who overbid to purchase the team, will gradually take over. Another issue is that Moorad is still part-owner of the Diamondbacks, and that situation may not have a clean and snappy conclusion. Eventually, owners will have to approve Moorad’s ownership in San Diego, which isn’t exactly etched in stone, either.
Moores’s messy divorce has turned the Padres into a small-market team that now has to be perfect in its decisions to be competitive. It wouldn’t appear that Gonzalez wants to wait for them to rise. While still an affordable player, Gonzalez won’t be after next season, and for a team with a $40 million payroll, committing long-term to him probably isn’t good business.
So here we are. Next step?
New Padres general manager Jed Hoyer and his former boss, Theo Epstein, have likely already brought this subject up once or twice. Starting tomorrow, they’ll be together again at the GM meetings in Chicago. Hoyer, in fact, was likely involved in talks Boston had with former Padres GM Kevin Towers on Gonzalez at the trading deadline. He also knows Boston’s talent and likely has in his head what four or five players he needs to get from Epstein to make a deal.
When I asked Gonzalez at this year’s All-Star Game about hitting at Fenway Park, he said, “I’ve never played there, but I’m told I would like it.’’
Asked about his client’s future with San Diego, Gonzalez’s agent, John Boggs, said, “I know Jed just got into the job and we haven’t discussed anything like that. We haven’t received an indication one way or the other, and I’m not sure we will. Adrian still has two years left on his contract.’’
One American League GM hopes the Sox can’t pull this off because, he said, “Then you’d have two teams, Yankees and Red Sox, that would be impossible to pitch to. Gonzalez would come close to 50 homers if he played half his games at Fenway. I don’t think that’s exaggerating.’’
Based on conversations with baseball people who understand both the Padres’ and Gonzalez’s situation, here are a few things we know:
1. Gonzalez would love to play in Boston. This is not a case of a guy who wants to stay in San Diego because the weather is nice. Gonzalez isn’t pleased with losing. “He wants to be where the action is,’’ said an AL scout.
2. It isn’t clear where Hoyer stands with Moorad on this issue. It was clear that Towers might not have been on the same wavelength as Moorad on whether Gonzalez must go. Towers was obviously listening to offers, while Moorad was thinking Gonzalez was still one of the few draws the Padres had, so they should keep him. Whether Hoyer has convinced Moorad that Gonzalez has to be used as a chip so the Padres can rebuild remains to be seen.
3. The Dodgers, Red Sox, Mariners, and Marlins were all involved in some level of talks on Gonzalez at the trading deadline.
4. Gonzalez will make an affordable $4.75 million in 2010 and has an option for $5.5 million in 2011 with no buyout. While the Padres may be able to afford that, they can’t afford Gonzalez long-term, and they could have an unhappy player on their hands if they don’t move him. While the Padres might be content with two draft picks if they let him play it out as a free agent, missing out on a big package of players would seem foolish.
5. When the Padres sent out their season-ticket brochure, outfielder Will Venable was featured far more prominently than Gonzalez in it. What does that tell you?
6. Gonzalez enjoyed his season in Portland (Maine) when he was with the Marlins organization, and that is where the Sox first started to notice that he had a penchant for hitting the ball to left and left-center with power.
7. Only eight of Gonzalez’s 40 homers this year were pulled.
8. He hit .244 with 12 homers and 36 RBIs at Petco this year, .306 with 28 homers and 63 RBIs on the road.
9. One potential downside to acquiring Gonzalez is that the Sox would have to commit to catching Victor Martinez quite a bit, perhaps more than they want to.
10. If the Sox pulled off a trade, they would likely try to move Mike Lowell or David Ortiz in a deal.
“I feel I’m going to be able to play from the get-go in spring training,’’ Nady said. “I’m going to start throwing in December and gradually build my arm strength. I’m not a pitcher, so this should happen faster for me.’’
Nady, 30, would have been the Yankees’ starting right fielder this season after he hit .305 with 27 homers and 97 RBIs combined for Pittsburgh and New York in 2008. The plan was for Nick Swisher to be the super utility guy, but Swisher wound up cracking 29 homers and may lay claim to right field next season.
“I’d love to come back here, but I’m not sure what their plans are,’’ said Nady. “I know it’s not going to affect my hitting and I know I can go out there and be a productive starting player for someone.’’
There’s no doubt teams would take a chance on Nady as a fourth outfielder, but as a starter?
“At some point, I’m sure we’ll have teams come out and watch me throw,’’ Nady said. “You’ve got to prove to teams you’re healthy and can do your job as an outfielder. I feel I’ll be able to, but I understand teams wanting to see for themselves and I’m certainly willing to do that.’’
As for his frustration in having to watch his teammates win the World Series.
“I suppose I could have been watching for a team that went home,’’ Nady said. “I learned so much being around these guys and what they went through to get to this point.
“I didn’t play but I felt I was a part of a special team. Any time you win a World Series, it’s something no other team has accomplished that year, so I’m certainly upset that I couldn’t have been a part of it on the field, but being around it is something I’ll never forget.’’
“He’s not performed like so many expected him to,’’ said a National League talent evaluator who watched Hermida a lot from South Florida. “Sometimes guys get a little bit lackadaisical playing there, though you’ve also had Dan Uggla and Cody Ross, who have played above their level.
“I think he’s best-suited to play left field rather than right and he’ll definitely be a guy who can hit the ball to left-center and hit that wall. I think what’s really going to help him is hitting coach [Dave Magadan], because he needs a different viewpoint to get him going.’’
Hermida was taken 11th overall in the 2002 draft out of Wheeler High School in Marietta, Ga. The Marlins passed on Joe Saunders, who went 12th to the Angels. Other players taken after Hermida include Scott Kazmir, Swisher, Cole Hamels, James Loney, Jeremy Guthrie, Jeff Francoeur, Denard Spann, Matt Cain, Mark Teahen, and Khalil Greene. So you can see how highly rated Hermida was.
“There were scouts at the time who felt Hermida should go even higher than he did,’’ said the talent evaluator. “Some even thought he should go ahead of Prince Fielder [seventh to Milwaukee].’’
The 2009 Hermida?
“Obviously, the Red Sox believe they can get the most out of him,’’ said the evaluator, “and where he’s still young enough , maybe they’re right.
“The Marlins didn’t ask for much in return, though the Jose Alvarez kid turned out to be decent, so it shows you that the Marlins, who are very good evaluators, just didn’t think he was worth the outlay of money.
“But again, if the expectation is fourth outfielder, they’ve got a decent one. If the expectation is more than that, then he’s the type of guy they might get lucky with.’’
2. Milton Bradley, OF, Cubs - Hard to believe Bradley could last one more year in Chicago, but the possible saving grace is the presence of hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Bradley had one of his best seasons under Jaramillo in Texas (.321, 22 homers, 77 RBIs, .436 on-base percentage, .999 OPS). The Cubs have been looking at a possible swap of bad contracts. SI.com’s Jon Heyman had one of the better suggestions - for Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. - but Bradley’s occasional flareups will make it difficult for many teams, especially those with good karma, to take him on.
3. Bobby Abreu, OF, Angels - After Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, he was going to be the next sought-after outfielder, so he might have cost himself some money by doing a quick sign for two years at $19 million. But he liked his team and decided that was better than a few extra million.
4. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners - There have been no talks concerning a long-term deal, but according to representative Alan Nero, “The Mariners have told us they’re interested in signing Felix long-term.’’ At the trading deadline, about 10 teams - including the Red Sox - made huge offers for Hernandez, but Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik didn’t bite. The Mariners would seem to have the funds to tie up Hernandez, who has become arguably the best pitcher in baseball, given his age (24).
5. Hideki Matsui, DH, Yankees - One thing the Yankees don’t want to do after winning their 27th World Series is get old. That’s why they parted with Abreu and Jason Giambi last season and why they might cut ties with the World Series MVP and Johnny Damon this year. Said a baseball official, “They could take that money and throw it at Matt Holliday or Jason Bay. They’re afraid of sticking with a guy too long. They’d rather get rid of a guy a year sooner, ahead of his decline, than a year later. They probably don’t want to impact their payroll too much, but if they drop Matsui, Damon, Nady, and Chien-Ming Wang, that’s about $38 million off the books. That gives them some flexibility for Bay or Holliday.’’
6. J.J. Hardy, SS, Twins - A National League talent evaluator on the Hardy-for-Carlos Gomez deal: “I think the Twins made an excellent deal because Hardy will bounce back and be a very good player for them. He can really play defense and I would expect his hitting will come back. Gomez will help Milwaukee defensively, but I was surprised they would use Hardy for another positional player because they really need pitching.’’
7. Mark Mulder, LHP, free agent - It will be an upset if Mulder doesn’t sign with the Brewers. His rehab coach was Rick Peterson, the new Milwaukee pitching coach. Mulder, 32, was beset with shoulder problems the past two years but now appears to be fine and would likely agree to an incentive-laden deal. In the estimation of one scout, the Brewers need four pitchers.
8. Bay, OF, free agent - Don’t completely buy reports that the Blue Jays would sign Bay to a huge deal; but if they’re into maximizing revenue at Rogers Centre, then acquiring the best current Canadian baseball player might get some attention - not to mention taking him away from AL East rival Boston. But if Bay is not biting on four years at $60 million from Boston, you wonder how far Toronto would go. Nady, a good friend of Bay’s, said that, as of a few days ago, “He has no idea what he’s going to do.’’
9. Jermaine Dye, OF, free agent - With the White Sox declining his $12 million option, he could be another option for the Red Sox if they whiff on Bay and Holliday. But he was awful the second half of the year, hitting only .179 with 7 homers and 26 RBIs after hitting .302 with 20 homers and 55 RBIs the first half and making the All-Star team.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.