As a Red Sox fan, when I heard the news that the Toronto Blue Jays signed shortstop Alex Gonzalez to a $2.75 million contract (with a club option for 2011), my first reaction was an unprintable word. My second reaction was a marveling at how Toronto may have just painted a master stroke of genius.
One may be befuddled at how I could utter such an unprintable word for a to-be 33-year old coming off a .635 OPS. Well, for one, I don’t consider Gonzalez’s time with Cincinnati this year terribly relevant: he struggled this year with injuries. Early on, he returned from missing all of 2008 and then had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. When he was traded to Boston, it was a happy circumstance of opportunity meeting the timeframe in which Gonzalez truly started getting healthy.
For Boston, Gonzo hit .284/.316/.453 and had a knack for getting the right hit at the right time. Is that batting line unsustainable? Maybe, maybe not. After all, in 2007, he hit .272/.325/.468 for Cincinnati in 110 games. Dial it back another year, his previous go-round with Boston and you have a .695 OPS, which is not all that bad. If he hadn’t had such a terrible September, we’re looking at a different story — check out his month by month splits:
Month G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS April/March 21 21 83 70 1 13 4 0 0 4 0 0 7 16 .186 .275 .243 .518 May 22 21 84 74 15 20 2 0 2 10 1 0 6 11 .270 .317 .378 .695 June 19 19 73 71 12 25 4 0 3 10 0 0 1 6 .352 .361 .535 .896 July 21 21 88 80 11 26 6 1 3 12 0 0 6 15 .325 .364 .538 .901 August 13 13 51 46 5 8 3 1 1 7 0 0 1 9 .174 .235 .348 .583 Sept/Oct 15 15 50 47 4 7 5 0 0 7 0 0 1 10 .149 .163 .255 .419
The Red Sox were willing to pay Gonzalez one year at $3 million, but wanted to hedge their bets and continue to see how the shortstop market played out. Understandably, Gonzalez wasn’t willing to do that. By offering Gonzalez this deal, Toronto has done one of two things.
First, and most importantly from an on-the-field perspective, Gonzalez gives Toronto a great defensive shortstop who has occasional pop in his bat and has proven his chops in playing in the American League East.
Secondly, and the reason I think the move may be a fantastic play by Toronto, is the likelihood that Toronto gets a first-round draft pick out of it.
Their outgoing shortstop, 33-year old Marco Scutaro, is a Type-A free agent and Toronto will certainly offer arbitration despite having settled their shortstop situation. Scutaro will decline the offer (barring a dramatic turn of events) because he will be able to land a multi-year deal as someone’s starting shortstop.
By taking Gonzalez off the table, Boston is now forced to look at Scutaro as the only legitimate alternative on the free agent market. Sure, there are players such as Adam Everett and Bobby Crosby out there, but Scutaro and Gonzalez were clearly the top options on the market. Boston would absolutely swallow hard before signing an Everett/Crosby deal, and it would cause Jed Lowrie to gain significant playing time at the major league level. This with Boston reportedly considering having Lowrie open up the season as the Triple-A starting shortstop (which I have been advocating for some time). To sign an Everett-type player and play Lowrie heavily with said player is to essentially punt the shortstop position from any meaningful contributions to the ball club.
As fellow Fire Brand and THT writer Mike Silver puts it: “Perhaps the easiest way to visualize this effect is to think of the show “Deal or No Deal”. The Red Sox, to dismay of viewers everywhere, have just lost their $50,000 case with only the $500,000 seed standing between them and financial ruin.”
Toronto has then not only plugged their hole at shortstop but has forced the Sox into a situation that may be tough to maneuver out of. Either downgrade from Scutaro and sign a weak alternative, or find a trade partner and somehow pull off a trade. (Which would almost certainly require some trade pieces Boston is hoarding for a possible Roy Halladay/Adrian Gonzalez/etc. trade.)
Assuming Boston signs Scutaro, Toronto has successfully forced Boston’s hand into giving a division rival their first-round pick. (I should mention here that it is possible Boston signs Scutaro and doesn’t give up a first-round pick. If Boston signs another, higher-ranked Type-A player such as Matt Holliday, Toronto would receive Boston’s second-round pick. I will not make such an assumption, however, especially given how Boston is still expected to retain Jason Bay.) Gonzalez represented Boston’s safety net. While Boston may have opted to sign Scutaro regardless, the ability was always there for them to take a step back and bring Gonzalez back. They can’t do that anymore
And heck, it’s even not just Boston that’s affected. By effectively removing many team’s Plan B in Alex Gonzalez should they have hoped after a shortstop, it increases the market for Scutaro — which, in turn, increases the chances that Toronto will be sitting pretty with some team’s first round pick. Well done.