Theo Epstein had him all the way
There was no way Red Sox GM was going to let Gonzalez get away
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- This week the Boston Red Sox are mailing renewal notices to season-ticket holders.
How many of them would have been marked "Return to Sender" if the Sox had decided to call off their deal for Adrian Gonzalez on Sunday, the same day another prime Sox target, Jayson Werth, elected to sign a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Washington Nationals?
That much-advertised splash the Sox were seeking to make would have been instantly transformed into a belly flop, leaving the occupants of Yawkey Way dripping wet with embarrassment.
But the Sox got their man, and despite almost-comical media speculation to the contrary, there was never really any doubt.
Prediction: It may take a little more time, but Gonzalez will soon be looking for more than just a short-term lease on a furnished apartment in the neighborhood.
The Sox spent more than 48 often excruciating hours attempting to negotiate a contract extension for Gonzalez, but failed to come to terms with the slugging first baseman. The Sox, according to ESPN colleague Jerry Crasnick, showed little inclination to move off their six-year, $120 million offer. Gonzalez is looking for a deal with more years (eight) and more cash (think $23 million to $25 million a year).
Further complicating the negotiations was the fact that Gonzalez recently underwent surgery to clean out the labrum in his right shoulder, which is not expected to fully heal until spring training. The Sox were generally satisfied with the results of the physical administered to Gonzalez by their medical staff Saturday, but still sought to include language in the contract that would have offered them some protection, much like they did with J.D. Drew.
As the hours passed and the teams approached, then eclipsed, the 2 p.m. deadline for their negotiating window, the speculation surrounding the talks grew increasingly hysterical, with one news outlet reporting that the deal was dead. Meanwhile, the Sox negotiating team was thunderstruck to learn of the bonanza that Werth and his agent, Scott Boras, extracted from the Nationals, far beyond the limits of anything the Sox were considering giving the free-agent outfielder.
That didn't do them any favors as far as their negotiating position with Gonzalez, who is three years younger and a far more productive player than Werth. Once the Werth deal was consummated, you could imagine Gonzalez's agent, John Boggs, demanding that the Sox include a piece of Liverpool FC as part of the deal.
We can say with certainty that at no point was the deal dead. There was little chance that Sox GM Theo Epstein -- after accompanying Gonzalez on his flight from San Diego to Boston on Friday night -- was going to repackage him and send him back, postage due. The Sox had some leverage, with Adrian Beltre still an attractive option if Gonzalez couldn't get done, but there was little doubt which player was the better long-term option for Boston.
The Red Sox aren't going to repeat the mistake the Atlanta Braves made with Mark Teixeira a couple of years ago, surrendering a raft of their best young talent (Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia) to get Teixeira, only to deal him a year later when it became clear they weren't going to prevent him from becoming a free agent. They want Gonzalez for the long haul; indeed, they have dreamed of this day for months. That's why they parted with Casey Kelly, their top pitching prospect; Anthony Rizzo, their best power prospect; and Reymond Fuentes, at 19 a still-unpolished jewel of an outfielder.
But any Sox concerns that Gonzalez might leave them holding the bag essentially were erased by the player himself, which is why Team Henry decided to proceed with the deal even without an extension in place. By all accounts, Gonzalez was instantly smitten by his first look at Fenway Park, a not-unsurprising reaction from a player whose current home, Petco Park, is a torture chamber for left-handed power hitters.
Gonzalez is not an unknown quantity, as a player or person, to the Red Sox. One of Epstein's special assistants is Dave Finley, the scout who signed Gonzalez when he was originally drafted by the Florida Marlins. The Marlins' owner at the time? John Henry.
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So when Gonzalez spoke with passion about wanting to play in Boston, thrive in Boston, and win in Boston, his audience knew this was not a sales pitch. This was straight talk. The wallet matters, but so does the heart.
Gonzalez made it clear to the Sox, and vice versa, that there is enough common ground for the sides to reach an agreement. There are luxury-tax benefits that make it advantageous, in fact, for the Sox to wait until after Opening Day, when Gonzalez's extension will not count against Boston's payroll for tax purposes in 2011. WEEI.com's Alex Speier was the first to sniff out the possibility that the tax man might be a party to this deal.
Paying more attention to the tax threshold now rather than later may come into play if the Sox decide to make a big play for Carl Crawford, though they will be no more inclined to give him eight years than they are Gonzalez. Or the Sox may well elect to explore trade possibilities for another outfielder, as they did with Arizona and Justin Upton.
But with Gonzalez, there's room to compromise, somewhere in the vicinity of seven years with an average annual value of $22 million. His will be a great face to put on a billboard, not only for this season, but for years to come. With Gonzalez in the fold, the Sox can send out those renewal notices, and expect many happy returns.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.