San Diego Son Adrian Gonzalez Seems Destined for Stardom in Boston
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Where would the Boston Red Sox be without San Diego to prop them up every few decades or so?
First we gave them Ted Williams.
Now we're giving them Adrian Gonzalez, another sweet-swinging ballplayer, San Diego born-and-bred.
Between sending the Sox those gifts, San Diego also gave to Boston baseball executives Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein.
Lucchino and Epstein would hire several able scouts formerly of the Padres. They also would hire Bill James, a fellow brainiac, and together with owner John Henry would build The Matrix on Yawkey Way. Two World Series championships followed, giving all those self-important Sox fans actual reason to be self-important.
So if the baseball gods are fair, the four Sox prospects who went to the Padres for Gonzalez will become stars on the West Coast.
Because Gonzalez is about to become a star on the Evil Coast.
As a boy living in Tijuana and later in south San Diego, Gonzalez rooted for the Padres and their perennial batting champion, Tony Gwynn, and developed an inside-out swing similar to Gwynn's left-handed stroke that swatted balls to left field. Except instead of landing in left field like Gwynn's drives did, Gonzalez's go off the wall or over it.
Gonzalez will turn the Green Monster into his pepper partner.
His defense is easy on the eyes, too. A former high school quarterback who quit football when the coach tried to turn him into a rah-rah guy, Gonzalez plays first base like Kenny Stabler would. He throws darts to the bases, even when the chance of success is remote. As much for his daring and accurate throws as his soft glove did National League managers and coaches award him two Gold Gloves.
On the basepaths, he makes too many mistakes. Perhaps he forgets he has the footspeed of a sportswriter.
Aside from his swing, which allows him to hit home runs to all fields and foul off a variety of pitches, the best part about Gonzalez's game is his ability to size up pitchers. How good is Gonzalez at hunting for pitches? Dodgers players likened him to cagey Manny Ramirez, the former Indians and Red Sox hitting star who led the Dodgers to the National League Championship Series in 2008.
Even before he turned 28 this year, Gonzalez doubled as a hitting mentor to young Padres teammates. His scouting reports were brilliant in their simplicity. Padres hitters will miss his counsel along with his imposing lineup presence.
Now that he isn't the only scary hitter in the lineup, it'll be interesting to see whether Gonzalez seeks to gain more bat control as teammates such as Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz help him to beef up the offense. Gonzalez decided in his early days with the Padres that he needed to hit more home runs even though that really wasn't his game. He chatted up Phillies slugger Ryan Howard and went to a heavier bat that added carry to his drives. The bat is the same size as one often used by Williams in his Red Sox days. (Gonzalez's agent, John Boggs, was a batboy for Williams when he managed the Washington Senators). Another reason for sacrificing heft for bat control is Gonzalez's home ballpark now will reward his medium-deep drives more often than San Diego's ballpark did.
He'll be hunting against pitchers less familiar to him than those in the National League, but in 15 games against American League clubs last year he batted .421 (24-for-57) with a 1.256 OPS.
The only potential glitch to the job transfer, one veteran scout said, is that Gonzalez has never played for a home team and city that's as serious about baseball as the Sox and Boston are.
"He's never been booed," the scout said.
The ultrawealthy Sox and Gonzalez have an understanding that Gonzalez will get a seven-year deal for $154 million on top of the $6.3 million salary he's due this year, so it stands to reason that the paying customer and press will expect big things from him. Athough Sox fans aren't quick to turn on their heroes, if Gonzalez slumps at crucial times or blunders on the basepaths against the Yankees, he'll draw more criticism in Boston than he heard in five years with the Padres.
He'll also hear more cheers when he's going well. And before his Sox days end, Gonzalez should finally know the thrill of winning a playoff series. If a World Series diamond ring is also in his future, he'll have something in common with former Padres position stars such as Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield and Steve Finley, who each won a World Series after their success priced them out of San Diego.
Yet while contemplating what future Octobers might bring Gonzalez, remember that the $38.6 million Padres ended up with one more victory than the Red Sox in 2010.
The Padres won 90 games, including 12 of 18 from the rival Giants. Led by stellar pitching and Gonzalez, who smacked a home run off Giants starter Matt Cain in the 160th game, the Padres pressured San Francisco to the final game of the season.
The Giants went on to win the World Series. The Padres opted to raise the white flag on 2011.
The Padres could've chosen to improve their 2011 club around Gonzalez and mount another run at the NL West title. Instead they built for seasons beyond by acquiring several prospects for a star player who wasn't going to sign a long-term deal with them.
For the most part, scouts with other clubs have praised the prospects, three of whom were drafted by former Padres scout Jason McLeod, who is one of the bright baseball men that Lucchino and Epstein took to Boston and now is an assistant to Padres general manager Jed Hoyer (a former Epstein aide as well).
Yet for Adrian Gonzalez, couldn't the Padres get a big leaguer plus those prospects? Say, Jed Lowrie, a Red Sox middle infielder who is blocked by the second baseman Pedroia and was on the trade block last summer? Hadn't the Sox lusted after Gonzalez for years?
Padres fans should be eager to see the players acquired for Gonzalez, notably pitcher Casey Kelly, a potential No. 2 or 3 starter who could reach San Diego late next season.
For the Padres' sales staff, meanwhile, it'll be a long, cold winter in San Diego attempting to sell season tickets to a white-flag season.