Adrian Gonzalez, first baseman, Boston Red Sox. Nice to finally be able to write that sentence in the present tense. As you may have noticed, the last few days were a wild ride, even by the usual standards of Red Sox melodrama.
A brief recap: Theo Epstein was hailed for acquiring the long-coveted Padres slugger, hated by the more reactionary segments of the fan base when some Twitter half-truths suggested the deal was dead, hailed again for getting the deal done even without a contract extension formally in place.
And then we all exhaled.
I've made it pretty clear through the past two years or so how much I hoped the Red Sox would someday acquire Gonzalez, and what an ideal fit he would be here. So, yeah, my Red Sox Alert Level is going to be stuck on "giddy" for awhile here. I put my feelings about giving up primo prospects for Gonzalez on the record a year ago -- do it, Theo, and don't look back -- and reiterated them Saturday. You know, the day they acquired him, but before he got away and they reacquired him again. Or something like that. I'll have to check my Twitter records to be sure how it all went down.
In the meantime, here are three other thoughts in the Gonzo Aftermath . . .
1. He's going to be better at Fenway: I know, that's tough to fathom, given that he hit 161 homers during his five seasons in San Diego, clubbed 48 on the road the past two years away from the fly ball graveyard at Petco, once walked 119 times during a season (2009) in which he also hit 40 home runs, drove in at least 99 runs in each of the past four seasons . . . yes, he's already accomplished some staggering things at age 29. Yet . . . he will be better now that he calls Fenway Park his baseball home. If this evidence, posted by Peter Abraham early, isn't convincing enough that he will be playing 81 games per season in the absolute ideal ballpark for his swing and his particular hitting talents, consider this: Last season with the Padres, he hit the ball to left field 95 times last season. And during those 95 at bats, he had 49 hits . . . for a .516 batting average. Ten of those hits were home runs, and he slugged .968 with a 1.479 OPS. This is the opposite of what happened to Fred Lynn 30 years ago, when a lefthanded hitter born for Fenway took his talents elsewhere and watched a potential Hall of Fame career dwindle away. This is an already great hitter, one who has spent seasons playing in a lousy lineup with feeble support, coming to the place his abilities would suggest he was always meant to play. In his press conference today in San Diego, Jed Hoyer said, "I think he's going to be a monster at Fenway." Imagine if that turns out to be an understatement.
2. Adios, Adrian: So I guess he surpasses Nick Esasky '89 as the best one-and-done player in recent franchise history. Talk about a deal that worked out perfectly for both sides; the Red Sox got a fine player at a bargain price during their "bridge" season, and Beltre rebuilt his value. Though Gonzalez/Youkilis should be superior to Youkilis/Beltre in terms of corner infield production next season and beyond, I'm sure I'm not the only one who is going to miss watching him play. Swinging from the heels and occasionally the knees, smoking lasers all over the ballpark, flashing unprecedented range for a Sox third baseman, playing hard each day and playing well through injuries, "I TOLD YOU, VIC, DON'T TOUCH THE HEAD!!!!" . . . yeah, he's a total original, all right. Beltre, more than anyone, brought fun to the 2010 Red Sox.
Related to that, a request: Please don't suggest Epstein should sign Beltre and move Kevin Youkilis to left field, or worse, right field, as one e-mailer mentioned yesterday. Youkilis is not an outfielder -- he's played 20 in left and two in right during his career, he was lousy, and he didn't like it. Putting him there is fantasy baseball daydreaming at its worst.
Anyway, the alleged point: Hoyer deserves credit for having the guts to trade Gonzalez, the Padres' best player, a swell guy who is generous in the community, and local boy made good, for three players with a combined zero days of major league service time. That he made such a deal tells you at least one of these three things:
1. There wasn't anything approaching a more appealing deal that included major-league ready talent.
2. He and assistant GM and former Red Sox director of amateur scouting Jason McLeod have tremendous confidence in their assessments of pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and outfielder Reymond Fuentes, all of whom were drafted by Boston on McLeod's watch.
3. He realized that even with Gonzalez, the Padres of 2011 would be much closer to the ones who lost 10 straight games during a pennant race than the team that surprisingly found itself leading the NL West for most of the summer.
I'm sure there's some element of truth in all three, though the second one is probably the most logical reason he agreed to the deal. Of the three players the Sox gave up, Rizzo is the one I was most disappointed to see go. Despite what the Padres suggested today, Kelly is a long way away -- he struggled in his first full-time foray into pitching this summer in Portland, and he should repeat the level at age 21. And Reymond Fuentes, while promising in that Ellsbury way, is so far away that I'll continue to worry about Engel Beltre making it big before I give Fuentes a second thought. But Rizzo . . . he could help San Diego soon, maybe even in the upcoming season after taking a big leap forward this summer in Portland, whacking 20 homers in 414 at-bats at age 20 in the Eastern League while playing a polished first base. His personal story is well-known, having survived Hodgkin's Lymphoma two years ago, he is by all accounts a terrific kid, and he's going to be very easy to root for as a Padre.
Pardon the big-market arrogance, but maybe when he's 28 and Gonzalez's contract is up here, maybe the Sox will bring him back to Boston some day. I have no doubt Rizzo will establish himself as a high-quality hitter and first baseman in San Diego, just as a certain star we are about to become familiar with did back when he was but a fledgling big leaguer.
Also, I totally knew it was Jay-Z.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.