Trading Adrian Gonzalez would be an overreaction from a team that overreacts like no other. But the Boston Red Sox should do it, just as the Philadelphia Phillies should have dumped Cliff Lee on the filthy-rich, hyperventilating Los Angeles Dodgers when they had the chance.
The Sox can include enough money in the deal to land Zach Lee and/or Allen Webster, the Dodgers’ top pitching prospects. If the Sox also can part with Josh Beckett – who, like Gonzalez, was claimed by the Dodgers on Friday but has enough service time to block any move – all the better. Frankly, Beckett should jump at the chance to move to a pitcher’s park in the more pitcher-friendly National League.
The two sides were close Friday to a trade that would send Gonzalez, Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Dodgers, a source told FOXSports.com’s Jon Paul Morosi. Those four players are owed more than $270 million combined. It was not clear how much money the Red Sox would include in the deal, or which prospects from either team might be involved.
Let’s make one thing clear: Gonzalez is not the Red Sox’s problem, even if his phone was the source of the infamous text message to ownership requesting a clear-the-air session to complain about manager Bobby Valentine. But AGon is owed $127 million from 2013 to ’18, and considering his dropoff in power this season, that will not be money well spent.
The Phillies blew it when they refused to take advantage of a similar waiver claim earlier this month and move the declining, soon-to-be-34-year-old Lee and the $90 million plus left on his contract to the Dodgers. (Though the Dodgers were on Lee’s no-trade list, and he might not have approved the deal.)
Gonzalez, 30, is younger than Lee, but also showing signs of regression. True, he entered Friday with the sixth highest OPS of any first baseman in the majors. But his home runs the past four seasons have declined from 40 to 31 to 27 to 15 (with 37 games remaining). His current .469 slugging percentage would be the lowest for any full season in his career.
A major league source told me last week that the Red Sox would trade Gonzalez only in a “transformative” – or franchise-changing – deal. Dumping his contract alone would be transformative, and never mind that the Red Sox traded for Gonzalez only 21 months ago and signed him shortly thereafter. A lot has happened since then, don’t you think?
The Red Sox, forever PR-conscious, will fret over the perception that they are taking a step backward – they acquired Gonzalez and Crawford during the 2010-11 offseason in part to enhance their appeal on their regional television network, NESN. But what are we talking about here? This is a team that already has taken a major step backward, going 66-86 since last Aug. 31.
Some fans will fantasize that the Sox could redirect the money saved on Gonzalez to other players, but in reality few superstars hit the open market these days. While the Sox would reap massive financial benefits by getting under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold by 2014, the new labor agreement limits spending on both domestic and international amateurs. What would be the point of saving all of that money, particularly when true impact talent is difficult to acquire?
Gonzalez, for all of his struggles earlier this season, still might be that type of talent; he has batted .355 with a .954 OPS in 223 plate appearances since June 22. Then again, he is trending toward becoming the Red Sox’s version of Mark Teixeira, a useful but overpaid slugger. If the Red Sox included significant cash in the deal, they could justify asking for Lee, Webster or any of the other Dodgers’ top prospects. And starting pitching is their biggest need.
The Sox’s young core already is promising. Left-hander Felix Doubront and third baseman Will Middlebrooks performed well this season. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway could emerge as a quality major leaguer. Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and shortstops Jose Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts represent the next wave.
How much worse would the Sox be if they built around such youngsters? They could trade Jacoby Ellsbury, a potential free agent after next season, for more starting pitching. And they probably could come close to replacing the 2012 version of Gonzalez; first basemen always are in plentiful supply.
No, the Sox wouldn’t compete with the Yankees or even the Tampa Bay Rays immediately, but their overzealous participation in the AL East arms race is how they got into this position in the first place - and a good number of their fans cannot stand what they’ve become.
Trading Gonzalez would be an overreaction. These Red Sox merit an overreaction.