The one thing I really, really miss about Adrian Gonzalez is his nickname—Gonzo. You can show up in Boston and hit/pitch as effectively as you want, but nothing will endear you to the Fenway Faithful as quickly as a name that sounds awesome in a Boston accent—think "NOH-mah" or "Pi-DRAW-yuh." And even if your name isn’t quite snappy or lyrical enough on its own, don’t worry, Red Sox fans are happy to fashion you a nickname that improves our ability to chant, cheer, and jeer.
"Gonzo" was perfect for that! But even with Adrian Gonzalez and his $21 million salary in LA, there’s a new hope for this awesome moniker to reverberate once more off the hallowed walls of Fenway Park.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.
Who is he? A 26-year-old Cuban defector who has been cleared for free agency in MLB and who will likely sign with a club before the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline.
Is he good? Short answer: yeah, probably. He has four pitches, he’s got velocity, and he’s a starting pitcher. If that assessment sounded vague, that’s because a more detailed account of Gonzalez’s talents is nigh-impossible for fans at this point. According to ESPN, MLB, and SI, and any number of other online publications, scouts have reported that his stuff is quite good. A hole in his delivery here, a control problem there, but yeah, good. I wish I knew more, but it’s not like Gonzalez has been in a minor league system where he would have been closely monitored by his MLB club, scouts from other MLB clubs, and Keith Law—he’s been in Cuba.
Several teams have shown interest in Gonzo’s (just trying it on for size) services and we’ll see just how good (or over-hyped) he is sooner rather than later when he makes his MLB debut in late August. Will he turn out to be the next Luis Tiant? We can’t know that yet. Will he have trouble adjusting to MLB pitch count limits and savvy lineups full of walk-drawers the way Daisuke Matsuzaka did? Again, we can’t know.
Should the Red Sox sign him? Even with all this uncertainty, my answer is an emphatic ‘yes.’
As Winston Zeddemore once said, "Ray, when someone asks you if you’d be interested in adding a young, MLB-ready SP at the trade deadline without giving up even a single prospect, YOU SAY YES!!!"
Just to get two months of Francisco Rodriguez, a probably-past-prime reliever, the Orioles gave up their 3rd or 4th best prospect in Nick Delmonico. Boston’s 3rd or 4th best prospects? Allen Webster or Will Middlebrooks or Jacky Bradley, Jr. I’m pretty glad the Red Sox didn’t make that kind of a trade. And I hope they continue to stand pat. I don’t really think they should go trading away guys like Xander Bogaerts, Jacky Bradley, Jr., Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, or Garin Ceccini for pitching help, and make no mistake, those are exactly the kind of names you’d see shipping off to Chicago if the Red Sox acquired Jake Peavy from the White Sox, Ervin Santana from the Royals, Cliff Lee from the Phillies, etc.
Before I move on, just gotta fit this in here: Dan Duquette is an idiot. Okay, better.
I’m a big proponent of playing the metagame, and for the Red Sox, it’s no secret that there are some really difficult-to-beat teams in the AL East. I think the Orioles have done a nice job this year, particularly on offense, but the Rays have clearly established themselves as Boston’s chief obstacle in winning the division (and Pennant), largely because of their pitching.
Here are some sample rotations for a playoff series, though they would obviously depend on the days off/pitch counts/series lead:
Rays – Moore, Price, Cobb, Moore, Price, Cobb, Moore
Red Sox – Buchholz, Lackey, Lester, Doubront, Buchholz , Lackey, Lester
Man alive. If the Rays had a series lead, they would probably throw Archer or Hellickson at you instead of starting Moore on short rest, but still, what a terrifying rotation. They could even switch Price and Moore in that layout and remain just as terrifying, which is even more terrifying.
And as for the Red Sox rotation? It’s full of question marks.
Buchholz may not be back until September, and then who knows if he’ll be anywhere close to as good as he was in April and May. I’m crossing my fingers that Jon Lester has begun to regain his old form. Felix Doubront is pitching better than anyone thought he could, which is great, but do you trust it in the playoffs? Lackey does have the electric stuff, the track record of success, and the post-season experience you want in a playoff starter. I hope he keeps it up. I just think the whole thing feels very precarious, particularly when it comes to Buchholz.
So what can you do to compete with the Rays?
I was talking with a fellow Boston fan the other day, and we were exchanging lamentations after watching Matt Thorton fail miserably and dragging ourselves through all 9 innings of David Price’s complete game (Tampa’s 2nd CG in 3 games vs. the ‘best’ lineup in the MLB). My buddy suggested that the Red Sox should "just get hot at the right time." True. I’m not opposed to that. Knocking Moore, Price, & associates around in the playoffs? Sounds like a great time. Let’s do it!
(In some sense, there’s some logic in the ‘get hot’ idea; no amount of prognosticating about potential rotations and playoff performances can really predict a fundamentally unpredictable game, and if the 2011 Cardinals taught us anything, it’s that the team that catches fire at the right time takes home the trophy.)
But baseball gods aside, what about options we could actually control?
Close the pitching gap.
Cliff Lee is the only guy out there who would 100% definitely upgrade your post-season pitching staff. He would cost you at least two of the aforementioned top prospects. Jake Peavy and Ervin Santana would probably upgrade your #3 spot and insure you against a major injury, but they would also cost you at least one top prospect.
This all brings me back to Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. Why should the Red Sox sign him? Because they need the pitching depth, because signing him is the best opportunity to attain said depth at the trade deadline without sending top talent to another team, and because why the hell not?
If Gonzalez wants 6 years, $60 million, then give it to him. You just got a very club-friendly extension with Pedroia on the books. You have a roster brimming with short-term deals that won’t handcuff you. You dumped $284 million worth of contracts to the Dodgers precisely so that you’d have the ‘roster flexibility’ to do something like this. So do it!
Starting pitchers are expensive. While 6 years seems like a long commitment for an unproven guy, think about how much money you’d have to pay for Cole Hamels or Clayton Kershaw if either of them ever actually became free agents. Even a middling starter like Ted Lilly is getting $13.5 million this year. You’re already paying Ryan Dumpster $13.25 a year. $10-12 million/season is a bargain right now, and a few years more down the line, it’ll be an absolute steal, even if Gonzalez ends up being mediocre.
The Red Sox have a distinct advantage in the chase for this particular Cuban defector. The Blue Jays want him? They just took on a ridiculous amount of guaranteed salary and I can only imagine that Alex Anthopoulos is on a short leash with ownership. The Rangers want him? They just got Matt Garza. The Angels want him? Again, lots of new and gigantic salaries on that roster, probably a short leash for the GM. The Orioles want him? They’re poor.
This is a scenario where I’m completely comfortable with the Red Sox outspending the opposition.
Gonzalez is 26 and ready to go. If you want bullpen depth, throw him in there for long relief, or convert Brandon Workman back into a reliever and give his spot in the rotation to Gonzo. Pay Gonzo as an insurance policy for Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester (not that I expect him to be that good).
The final point I want to make here can be summarized in one word: upside.
It seems like, at worst, signing Gonzalez would give you a reasonable deal on a reasonably talented starter for several years and some rotation/bullpen depth heading down the stretch of what has been a surprisingly successful 2013 campaign so far; at best, who knows? Both fans and front office employees in Boston probably dread ending up with another Dice-K. But look at Yu Darvish right now. Or, if you want to stick to Cuba, look at Aroldis Chapman and Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes.
I’m not banking on it, but what if Gonzo comes to the Red Sox and sparks them, seizing the opportunity to pitch for one of baseball’s greatest franchises, working with the top-notch coaching staff to polish his game and thriving in the high-pressure moments that, from the looks of this AL East race so far, will almost assuredly be super-ultra-omega-high-pressure moments? Again, I’m not banking on it, but…what if he’s wicked awesome?
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