(w/ LA) .299/.344/.463 157pa 3hr 0.8 WAR C+
2012 in brief: Shocking trade brought Gonzalez & friends to Los Angeles in August and changed the face & direction of the franchise.
2013 status: Will make $21m and will be the Dodger first baseman until long after this blog ceases to exist.
For months, we suffered through James Loney. We bristled at the idea that Juan Rivera was actually any sort of alternative. We regretted that Kevin Youkilis landed in Chicago. We worried that even when Loney was gone, there was just about nothing on the first base market this winter to finally solve this problem.
Then, as it always seems to happen, news broke while I was on the road (to Boston, no less). Since the deal took a few days to shake out, I managed to eke out some thoughts from a hotel room:
As some of you know, I’m in Boston this weekend for a college friend’s wedding, and as you can imagine, running into so many Red Sox fans last night meant that we had much to discuss. The question I got most of all was, “so do you like this for the Dodgers?”
The more I think about it, the more difficult that question is to answer. My reactionary post last night was mostly done in the giddiness of the moment (Kemp/Ethier/Gonzalez/Ramirez!), and for 2012, I love the hell out of it. Salary concerns are mostly irrelevant over the remaining six weeks of the season, and none of the players going to Boston were likely to contribute to a 2012 playoff push; James Loney, if anything, was doing his best to hinder it. So for this season, what you’ve done is hugely upgrade at first base and add another starting pitcher, which now seems more timely given the concerns over Chad Billingsley’s elbow.
<snipped a whole bunch of thoughts about prospects headed back to Boston>
So how am I feeling about it today? I think Gonzalez is going to be an incredible fit in LA, especially considering that reports of his demise in Boston seem overblown (he was outstanding last year and has been very good for much of this year after a slow start) and that he never seemed to want to leave Southern California in the first place. It’s a high price to pay, but if he is what we think he is – and don’t forget, there was little available in the first base market next year, so if you’re spending money, this is how you do it – and the team becomes a consistent contender, I think it’ll be a price we can live with.
And if not? The next decade could get ugly, fast. For now, I’m cautiously optimistic, but mainly excited for the rest of the season.
Things certainly got off to a good start; in Gonzalez’ first game as a Dodger, Mark Ellis, Luis Cruz, & Matt Kemp led off the bottom of the first inning with hits. Gonzalez, coming to the plate for the first time in blue, crushed a Josh Johnson pitch deep into the stands, needing only a single swing to hit more homers at Dodger Stadium than Loney had in 2012. (Still can’t believe that’s a real thing, by the way.) A week later, his first walkoff turned a deficit into a win against Arizona, and things seemed like they’d be rosy.
It’s never quite that simple, of course. Despite my attempts to remind people that the huge trade was made with far more than 2012 in mind, as the offense continued to struggle – largely, I would add, because Shane Victorino was terrible, A.J. Ellis was running out of gas, and Kemp was a shell of himself after hitting that wall in Colorado – Gonzalez found himself the target of a sizable amount of criticism.
That’s to be expected, of course. You make one of the riskiest and most expensive trades in sports history, and you expect the centerpiece to come in and be productive. After an 0-5 against St. Louis on September 16, Gonzalez was hitting a lowly .233/.287/.372 as a Dodger, which was Loney-esque in its mediocrity. As I mentioned, he was hardly alone in struggling at the time, since just about every Dodger outside of Cruz was, but as the big-ticket import, he was the one in the crosshairs.
Fortunately for Gonzalez, that’s not how things ended. He picked up three hits in a doubleheader against Washington on September 19, then one in each of his next three games before going deep twice in Cincinnati on September 23, his first two homers since that first game. By the time the season was over, Gonzalez had hit .390 over a season-long 15 game hitting streak, and totaled .319/.360/.474 during the month September.
By September 28, I found myself having to hit back against the constant criticism of Gonzalez and the trade:
As I attempt to catch up on the baseball world after the whirlwind last few weeks of wedding and honeymoon, what I’m noticing is that there’s a pretty great narrative going on about how the big Dodgers/Red Sox trade, and Adrian Gonzalez specifically, was “a bust” for LA, since Gonzalez got off to a slow start and the team is unlikely to make the playoffs. (You can see examples here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And probably dozens more.)
While that’s kind of silly – we talked about how the trade was made with far more than just 2012 in mind and anyone who quotes the entire $250m+ figure without pointing out that it was hardly a secret that Carl Crawford was known to be injured when the trade was made is willfully distorting the facts – I will at least acknowledge that Gonzalez hasn’t exactly been the instantaneous boost we all hoped he’d be.
Then again, he is hitting .311/.357/.459 over his last 22 games, dating back to September 2, while James Loney, somewhat remarkably, has been even worse in Boston than he was as a Dodger. So with Crawford irrelevant and Josh Beckett adequate, it’s hard for me to pin too much blame on this team (likely) missing October on some perceived story about how the big-spending Dodgers swung and missed with their big deal, especially when first base was upgraded and the rotation was reinforced.
I went on to note nearly a dozen different reasons that had more bearing on missing the playoffs than Gonzalez, from injuries to Kemp & Chad Billingsley to the aforementioned slumps by Victorino & Ellis to the mere fact that the Giants somehow lost Melky Cabrera and then played better.
All of which leaves us with some very disparate and difficult-to-reconcile facts about Gonzalez:
1) A Dodger line of .297/.344/.441 (.785 OPS) is by no means a disaster, especially when you consider that it includes his slow first two weeks, and is clearly an upgrade over Loney
2) A .785 OPS is hardly what you are paying hundreds of millions for
3) Gonzalez wasn’t the reason the Dodgers missed the playoffs, but he didn’t propel them there, either.
For his part, Gonzalez acknowledged that he has work to do and expectations to meet in a post-season interview with Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, but generally sounded happy and excited to be in Los Angeles. For now, the hot end to Gonzalez’ season was encouraging, and it’s hard not to be thrilled that he’ll be manning first base next year instead of Loney, Bryan LaHair, or whatever other unlikeable alternatives are to be available. That’s really an underrated component of the trade, I think. I’m only half joking when I say that Loney is potentially the best free agent first baseman out there (assuming the Nationals lock up Adam LaRoche first), so to be able to avoid that mess with a guy who has been one of the best for years… well, it certainly alleviates a lot of concern headed into 2013. Now all we need is for Gonzalez to show it on the field.
Next up! We take a total left turn to provide a grade to someone you wouldn’t expect…