From major disappointment to franchise savior, Adrian Gonzalez might have played the most important role for the Red Sox of any player in five years.
Adrian Gonzalez was huge for the Red Sox in 2011. Featured heavily (if perhaps incorrectly) in MVP conversations, Gonzalez was one of the few parts of the team that didn't even go wrong in September, hitting .318/.455/.523 down the stretch as the rest of the Sox crawled their way to infamy.
Still, anyone who looked at that year probably came away with a few concerns. Gonzalez had come to Boston with high expectations. The expectation was that Fenway would turn an already impressive home run hitter into an absolute monster, instead Gonzalez hit long balls in spurts and ended the season with just 27. His walk rate was down, his isolated power lower than it had been in five years.
The only thing that went was up for Gonzalez? BABIP. At .380, it painted a concerning picture of a player who was, if good, also lucky. Someone who actually needed to bounce back in 2012 to even come close to replicating their performance.
Instead, Adrian came out of the gate slow, hitting just .271/.337/.400. The once-patient hitter began to press, leading to long droughts in walks as the media became more and more fixated on his failures, some even questioning if this was Gonzalez beginning to fade. Gonzalez was quick to assure Red Sox fans he would get his numbers up to the .300/.400/.500 plateau, but even with a strong (if still symptomatic, featuring just one walk) July, he never did.
What he did do was manage to bring his value up. That strong July and a decent run in August were enough to convince the Dodgers, allowing the Red Sox to unload $260 million in salary with one blockbuster deal. It was clear that Adrian Gonzalez was the centerpiece of that trade, the real "quality" the Dodgers expected to get out of it. And this even at the price of $20 million a year. Without Gonzalez the Sox would still be stuck with Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and be down two exciting young pitchers.
That Gonzalez then hit .297/.344/.441 for the Dodgers is of little concern to Boston.
It's possible this is the beginning of the end for Gonzalez. He's only 30, but we already discussed how his 2011 performance was something of a phantom, casting this campaign in a much darker light. But for the Red Sox, he has played his part. It's not the part we expected him to play, with his departure saving the franchise rather than his arrival, but that doesn't make it less valuable.
Whatever success the Red Sox manage over these next five years with their sudden financial freedom, we have Adrian Gonzalez to thank for it. Whatever the contributions of Crawford or Beckett to making the Dodgers willing to deal, it was Adrian that provided the real incentive, and gave the Sox a very important chance for tabula rasa.