When Adrian Gonzalez hit the second pitch he saw in a Dodger uniform for a three-run home run Saturday, it culminated general manager Ned Colletti’s season-long pursuit of the Boston Red Sox first baseman.
“I talked to [Red Sox general manager] Ben Cherington back in April about Adrian,” Colletti said. “As the talks went on, they were sporadic. We talked about other players. At the [July 31 non-waiver trade] deadline, they weren’t prepared to do anything. The more scouts talk, you get a feel for where the match may be – you get a feel for what players in your system they would like. … You don’t get the crystal clear picture of it, but you get an idea where their interest lies. We just kept turning, kept turning. I stayed in touch with Ben through the month of August. He all of a sudden knew that we were in the market to pick up star players. We were also looking to add as much pitching as we could add.”
Colletti said that Gonzalez was a topic of daily discussion, internally and externally, every day for the last week.
The home run was nice, but the Dodgers will need to get a lot more out of Gonzalez if today’s trade is to pay off. He’s under contract through 2018 for a total of $128 million after this season. Gonzalez turns 36 during the final year of his contract.
Of course, optimism is high among the Dodgers in the wake of today’s trade, which also fetched Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford, and sent James Loney and four prospects to Boston. He may not managing the club in 2018 or not, Don Mattingly sees a classic hitter’s stroke in Gonzalez that has him smiling now.
“A pure hitter. He’s one of those guys,” Mattingly said. “His stroke is smooth. Those are the guys that are going to be able to hit good pitching. As we get into tougher and tougher competition, Adrian’s going to be able to shine.”
The 30-year-old Gonzalez is a career .294 hitter through Friday, with 210 home runs and 728 RBIs in 1,140 career games for the Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox.
The Marlins drafted Gonzalez first overall in the 2000 first-year player draft. He climbed as high as 31st on Baseball America’s list of the game’s best prospects by 2003.
That same year, he split the season between the Marlins’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates –then the Albuquerque Isotopes –before he was traded to Texas in the deal that sent Ugueth Urbina to Miami. In January 2006, Texas traded Gonzalez to San Diego in a multi-player deal.
Playing just a few miles north of his Chula Vista birthplace (Gonzalez’s parents moved back to their native Mexico shortly thereafter, and he was raised in Tijuana), the first baseman became a perennial MVP candidate and a three-time All-Star. Despite playing in pitcher-friendly Petco Park, Gonzalez averaged 32 home runs, 100 RBIs and a .288 batting average in five seasons in San Diego.
By December 2010, the Padres were rebuilding, and they shipped Gonzalez to the Red Sox for four prospects.
In his first year in Boston, Gonzalez set career highs in batting average (.338), OBP (.410) and slugging percentage (.957) while leading? the Red Sox in RBIs (117). He finished seventh in MVP voting in his first American League season.
This year was a different story. Amid conflicting reports that Gonzalez wanted Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine fired (or was merely upset with him), the slugger slumped to a .250 batting average and just two home runs in the season’s first month. Gonzalez went on a tear in July and got his average above .300, but by then the Red Sox were out of contention in the American League East.
It was good timing for the Dodgers. Loney and Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena headline this year’s first-base free agent crop. That was a factor perhaps on par with Colletti and the owners’ desire to win now.
“When you look at free agent classes that may be coming out as time goes on … there’s a scarcity in certain positions,” Colletti said. “When you have an opportunity to fill that need, you’re going to have to do it. If you let that go by, you’re going to have a tougher time trying to fill that down the road.”