December 6th 2010. A day that Red Sox fans rejoiced as the team finally got the face of the franchise. After a year of lukewarm rumors, Adrian Gonzalez came to Boston. Theo Epstein had to part with his best prospects but it didn't matter to fans. His arrival gave the fans back a confidence that was slowly sucked out of them after a season in which injury upon injury put the Sox in the middle of the pack in the American League.
With Gonzo in the middle of the lineup, the Red Sox were set up as perennial favorites to win the World Series. Sixteen months later, the Sox are in rough shape thanks to a patched up bullpen and an ownership closing their checkbooks after a couple years of overspending.
You can’t blame Theo, or anyone really, for being enamored with Adrian Gonzalez. He is one of the best pure hitters in all of baseball; with the perfect combination of discipline, knowledge, and power. The team finally found someone that filled the void created when Manny Ramirez was shipped out of town, the guy in the lineup that will make a pitcher pay if they didn’t pinpoint every single pitch. His Gold Glove caliber defense was the cherry on top. When the Sox signed him for seven years, $154 million it seemed like a steal.
But with how the team is set up and all the issues that haunt them, it’s hard not to look back and ask: Do the Sox have the right Adrian?
In his first year in Arlington, Beltre became one of the key cogs for the Rangers in their return to the World Series. He caught fire late in the season, in the last 24 games of the regular season he went off hitting .329, with 12 home runs and 29 RBIs. That’s not counting what he did in the playoffs, when he ruined Tampa Bay’s hopes & dreams with a three home run performance to knock the Rays out of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Gonzalez put up a respectable .318/4/14 but wasn’t anywhere near as effective as he was earlier in the season, thanks in part to his surgically repaired shoulder. He couldn’t stop the bleeding as the Sox found new ways to lose in September. Then when the Sox officially choked it away, he infamously said “God didn’t want us to win” which brought him under the scorn of extremely pissed off Sox fans.
But this isn’t as simple as "Beltre’s hot bat would’ve brought the Sox to the playoffs, which means the Bob Hohler article never gets written and the Red Sox lived happily ever after". What took place in September couldn’t be stopped by one person. But had the Sox stayed the course and re-signed Beltre over acquiring Gonzalez, the team would be in better shape than what you see on the field today.
Let’s start with Kevin Youkilis. He moved back to third for the sake of the team (Take notes, Bard!) and it has only come back to bite him in the ass (never mind.). At this stage in his career, he’s a first basemen playing out of position at third. He doesn’t have the same range like he used to and his body can’t take the rigors that are needed to play the hot corner every day. This has also affected his ability at the plate as batting average and OPS took a nose dive last season (.258 and .833 respectively).
It hasn’t gotten any better for Youk this year as he’s struggled out of the gate, had his manager call him out for not being “physically or mentally into it”, and now has to wonder if Will Middlebrooks will get called up as the prospect is raking it down in AAA. Even if he finishes the season, he’ll be a free agent and the Sox may very well let the Greek God of Walks walk.
If the Sox kept Beltre, Youkilis stays at first, a place where he is more suited and has potential to win a Gold Glove. This also leads to a healthier Youk and he maintains the .300/25/90 pace that he has been on since 2008, which leads to all the sabermetric guys drooling over him. While Youk is a downgrade to the almighty Gonzo, he makes a formidable duo with Beltre. In fact they had the same combined WAR in 2010 as Gonzo & Youk did in 2011(10.5).
As for pitching well, their best pitching prospect, Casey Kelly would still be waiting in the minors. He would have his chance to pitch in the Majors when Clay Buchholz went down with his back injury. If they wanted to make a bigger splash, they would’ve been big players in the Ubaldo Jimenez sweepstakes. A package centered around Kelly and Anthony Rizzo would surely make the Rockies think twice about the Indians’ offer. But let’s say they keep Kelly, gets called up and has a few decent starts. The front office decides to give him a shot at the rotation in Spring Training. Suddenly you have a battle between Aceves, Bard, Doubront, & Kelly for the final two spots in the rotation.
Since Doubront is out of options he takes the #4 spot & Kelly squeaks out Aceves to complete the rotation. Aceves goes back to his long relief/stop the bleeding role that he was so good in last season. As for Bard, after struggling in two Spring Training starts, they push Bard back into the bullpen and let him return as a set up man.
What about the closer role you ask?
Well… the Sox have some extra money in their budget and they’re willing to offer their closer Jonathan Papelbon a four year/$50 million dollar deal. Papelbon feels appreciated and relieved that the Sox didn’t hesitate to sign since he didn’t want to be stuck in negotiation hell. The bullpen stays together and the back of the rotation is letting their prospects prove themselves instead of spending big on an average pitcher. This doesn’t kill the Sox financially as Papelbon & Beltre would’ve cost them $26,000,058 this season, a fair price to keep a top-five closer & third baseman. (Gonzalez, Bailey, and Melancon are on the books for $25.43 million this season.) That’s a better overall team.
Does this mean that the trade for Gonzalez was bad? Hell no. Gonzo revitalized fans the same way Kevin Garnett did for Celtics fans. Besides anyone that is hitting .300 and is considering struggling, is someone that everyone wants on their team. Even with all the drama that surrounds this team, his knack for hitting the ball is still a joy to watch. Gonzo is a special talent and the Sox paid a hefty price to get that special talent on this team. A price they are still paying.