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Quite a comfortable fit

Gonzalez could be made for park

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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / December 7, 2010

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — On paper, in concept, and perhaps in reality, there probably hasn’t been a better match for a team in recent times than Adrian Gonzalez and the Red Sox.

The inside-out stroke, the Gold Glove defense at first base, the attitude, and the passion. All are almost picture-perfect, which is why starting in October, Padres general manager Jed Hoyer sensed Theo Epstein needed Gonzalez.

“It’s funny, in October — and Theo and I talk all the time — he’s calling me more often than usual. I’d walk down to [assistant GM] Jason McLeod’s office and he said, ‘He’s asking already?’ He’s kind of calling more often,’’ said Hoyer. “Maybe a month ago we started talking. [The Red Sox] were the most aggressive but there were other teams that we engaged with also and were very interested. Ultimately [the Sox] were the most aggressive. Not surprisingly. Theo has thought very highly of Adrian; when he was working in San Diego he’d go watch him at Eastlake High School in Chula Vista. Theo has always been a big fan of his.’’

Gonzalez could join the likes of Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Fred Lynn, Wade Boggs, and Mo Vaughn as lefthanded hitters who were made for Fenway Park. Williams was more of a pull hitter who could hit it anywhere. Boggs hit .369 at Fenway with a .991 OPS and .464 on-base percentage. Vaughn hit .326 on Yawkey Way with a .993 OPS. Gonzalez should become a doubles machine, and perhaps a home run machine. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility to see his home run totals routinely in the 40s and it shouldn’t shock many to see him hit 50.

“That young man can really rake,’’ said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “What a force up there. There aren’t too many guys in the league you’d rather see at the plate with a chance to win a game. At Fenway . . . Good Lord . . . that Wall is gonna have a few bruises.’’

You’d be hard pressed to find any baseball people who would disagree with Manuel’s assessment.

Gonzalez is a force who will make his teammates better.

“That’s the part that a lot of people don’t get,’’ said former Reds and Nationals GM Jim Bowden. “He makes the players around him better. Your lineup automatically is turned up a notch. The hitters around him will be better.’’

“Having played in [Fenway Park] a lot, I can’t think of a guy who’d be so suited for it,’’ said former Sox pitcher Frank Viola. “Wade [Boggs] was unbelievable there, but Gonzalez has some ability to hit the ball off the Wall and over the Wall a lot. It changes things in the AL East.’’

Gonzalez could have a dramatic impact on the lineup, much the way David Ortiz has for years. Though Ortiz still has a flair for the dramatic and can pound righthanded pitching, he isn’t the force he used to be.

With Gonzalez in the lineup, Ortiz can relax a little bit, knowing he doesn’t have to be that guy anymore.

Kevin Youkilis should continue to put up big numbers because of his patience at the plate. Boston’s lineup is now more versatile and deeper. Gonzalez’s presence allows the Sox to sit Ortiz against some lefthanders and use Youkilis or Gonzalez as an occasional DH.

The one area where some baseball people feel Boston failed was not re-signing Victor Martinez.

Martinez, as a switch-hitter, may have been a perfect complement to Gonzalez, a player who hit lefties at a .400 clip last season.

“Back when Boston had Manny [Ramirez] and Ortiz, that was as good a 1-2 punch as you’re ever going to see,’’ said one American League GM. “Their lineup is different now than those days but with Gonzalez and Youkilis and Ortiz, [Dustin] Pedroia, [J.D.] Drew — wow. Where’s the break there? That’s pretty tough to contend with if all those guys stay healthy and they’re hitting together even without Victor or [Adrian] Beltre.’’

What some managers were talking about yesterday is how tough it is to match up their bullpens against Boston’s lineup. There’s a relentless left-right flow throughout the lineup, switch-hitting catchers (Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek), a switch-hitting utilityman (Jed Lowrie) who will be used a lot, and the Red Sox don’t appear to be done. They’re looking for a righthanded bat with Magglio Ordonez and Washington’s Josh Willingham among the possibilities.

It was a unique deal because Hoyer was actually involved in trying to help Epstein pry Gonzalez from former Padres GM Kevin Towers two years ago.

Hoyer always knew how important this was to the Red Sox. He was involved in trying to acquire Mark Teixeira when the Sox came up short.

“That was a kick in the stomach for sure,’’ Hoyer said. “We were very aggressive in going after him. The Yankees came in at the last minute and obviously won a World Series the next year with him. He obviously would have been a great fit.’’

Hoyer said before the Sox acquired Martinez from Cleveland in 2009 they made one attempt to get Gonzalez.

“They missed out on Tex but they weren’t gonna miss out on another one,’’ said Hoyer.

Hoyer, who said there were two other teams interested besides Boston (one being the White Sox), needed to hear Casey Kelly was in the deal. Once he did, the other prospects — Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes — fell into place. Now Hoyer thinks “Kelly and Rizzo are our best two prospects.’’

Hoyer, who will acquire a cheaper first baseman such as Adam LaRoche, Derrek Lee, or Lyle Overbay, was never really nervous about the deal coming off, even when the extension talks had died.

“Any time you make deals for prospects there’s an uncomfortable nature to it, but in this case, when you know the players, it cuts that down considerably,’’ said Hoyer. “We discussed some major league players [Lowrie and Jacoby Ellsbury according to a major league source] and there were teams offering us major league players and lesser minor league talent. This was the only deal where we knew we had top young talent coming back.’’

Different sides of the rainbow for the Padres and Red Sox.

One team solidified its future. The other solidified its present with a superstar who will bring excitement back to Yawkey Way.

Just in time for tickets to go on sale Saturday.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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