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December 8, 2010

On the Beat

Gonzo about Gonzalez

by John Perrotto

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida--Terry Francona is always upbeat, the type of guy who seems to get excited by something as routine as the sun coming up in the morning and setting in the evening.

However, the Red Sox' manager is particularly fired up these days, and who can blame him? He is two days removed from having one of the best hitters in baseball get plugged into the middle of his lineup, as the Red Sox acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres for a package of prospects that included right-hander Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and center fielder Reymond Fuentes.

The addition of Gonzalez gives Francona a big bat in the lineup to replace catcher Victor Martinez, who bolted for the Tigers as a free agent. Gonzalez will join a heart of the order that includes second baseman Dustin Pedroia, third baseman Kevin Youkilis, and designated hitter David Ortiz. Suddenly, the Red Sox look like a team ready to return to the postseason after falling short for the first time since 2006.

"It's amazing how one hitter can really make you feel, not just feel, but look different," Francona said Tuesday at the Winter Meetings at the Swan and Dolphin resort at Walt Disney World. "I mean, you stick him in the middle of the order, whether he's hitting third, fourth, wherever, we're a lot different team. It's Pedey, Youk, David, you name it. It's kind of how we felt when we got Victor a couple of years ago. Now all of a sudden you get that legitimate bat, that's pretty exciting. It was an exciting way to start the meetings. It still seems exciting the next day, and I'm sure when we leave here it will be exciting."

The Red Sox and Padres agreed to the parameters of the trade last Friday, but the deal nearly fell apart Sunday when Gonzalez could not work out a contract extension with Boston. However, the sides made enough progress in the negotiations that the trade was finalized Monday. Francona was quite surprised to get a phone call from an eager Gonzalez not long after the trade became official.

"I was trying to round his number up and he called me, which you don't see that very often, either," Francona said. "We talked for about 10 minutes, and I just told him to make himself comfortable and gave him my number, told him I'd be talking to him and just relax. Then we'll start working on getting to know each other. I want to make his change as easy as possible, and just let him get comfortable and get him ready for the season."

Gonzalez will be in for a climate change that goes far beyond the difference in weather between temperate San Diego and unpredictable Boston. Gonzalez was in a laid-back atmosphere with the Padres while playing in his hometown and now he will join the Red Sox, who are followed by perhaps the most obsessive fans in professional sports. However, Padres manager Bud Black believes Gonzalez will be able to handle the transition.

"He understands the game," Black said. "He understands all that goes along with it. He understands what goes along with being the All-Star type of player that he is. He gets all of that. He's going to be fine. I suspect he will thrive on it. Boston is a very unique place to play in a very positive way. I think a player like Gonzo will enjoy that."

On the surface, Gonzalez figures to be a significant upgrade over Martinez. Gonzalez had a .324 True Average last season while Martinez had a .292 mark. However, Francona also cautions that Opening Day is still nearly four months away and the Red Sox still have plenty of time to keep bolstering their roster.

"Two weeks ago when Victor left for Detroit, it was like Boston was going to fall off into the ocean," Francona said. "You have to remind people it's a long winter, and we have good ownership, and we have a smart front office, and let the winter play itself out. It's not played itself out yet, but we've got a really good first baseman. The winter's not over. I just think that you can't judge the winter by the first day or the first transaction. You can't judge your season now either. This is a really exciting move on our part, and it will make us a lot better. But it's still the winter."

---

The addition of Gonzalez to the Red Sox' lineup just made the Rays' job of defending its American League East title that much tougher. If the Yankees wind up signing free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee, the Rays' odds will become even longer.

"I was very disappointed," Rays manager Joe Maddon said with a laugh when asked what his reaction was to the Gonzalez trade. "This guy is one of the best hitters that I've seen in recent time. He definitely fits that ballpark's abilities or his abilities match that ballpark well. He's going to wear out that left-field wall. He's a great first baseman. It's good for the Red Sox. There is nothing we can do about that, though."

Instead, the Rays have plenty of their own business to take care of this winter. First baseman Carlos Pena and left fielder Carl Crawford are expected to leave as free agents, shortstop Jason Bartlett is on the trading block, and free agency has taken away almost the entire bullpen.

"Oftentimes in the past, I'm confronted with this in the offseason, and all these other teams, the Yankees and Red Sox in particular, are going to make some really good moves," Maddon said. "At the end of the day, I've got to tell you the same thing, I'm only worried about what the Rays do. There is nothing I can do. When it comes to the uncontrollable components, which is what the other teams do, God bless them. It's up to us to react to it, plan well against them, pitch well against them, play well against them."

---

Two days after the Nationals announced that they had signed free-agent outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract, it still had people around the game buzzing. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was left shaking his head, too, even though Werth spent the last four seasons in Philadelphia.

"I knew Jayson was going to get some pretty good money, I mean, good money," Manuel said. "But I didn't know he would get that much money. That kind of surprised me."

Werth had a career-best .322 TAv last season. However, Manuel insists the Phillies should be as good or better next season despite losing Werth.

"I think we're still OK," Manuel said. "I think we can maneuver our lineup. At the same time we have to have those guys that have had those good years before. We have to step up. We have to put together the kind of seasons that we're capable of having.  There is a chance we're going to miss Werth because he's a good player and the things he did for us. At the same time, somebody always steps up, the game keeps moving along. That's how I think and how we have to think."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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