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Touching All the Bases

Should Red Sox Trade Mookie Betts In Deal For Carlos Gonzalez? (Too Late, CarGo Is Hurt)

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In the accelerating quest to repair a Red Sox outfield that collectively this season has been less productive than Lonnie Chisenhall's Monday, I found this suggestion by the New York Post's Joel Sherman interesting:

At a time when the Rockies have young talent present and coming, here is a chance to get more and ease the pressure on future payrolls that are nearing if they keep both CarGo and Troy Tulowitzki. .... Does a deal built around Mookie Betts and Allen Webster do it for the Red Sox?

By "do it,'' he means would that be enough to entice the Rockies to trade Carlos Gonzalez, their supremely talented 28-year-old center fielder, to the Red Sox. It certainly doesn't seem like there's anything more than huh-this-might-work conjecture to Sherman's Sunday column.

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And that was even before CarGo's healthy finger count was reduced to nine (seven if you don't count thumbs). He's undergoing exploratory surgery on his problematic left index finger today, and given that hitters with a cast on a hand have not yet been identified as a market inefficiency, it's hard to imagine he's going anywhere but to the disabled list for several weeks.

gonzalezcargofinn610.JPGBut at a time when Shane Victorino is absent, Jackie Bradley Jr. can't touch a fastball, Grady Sizemore appears to be headed toward a career epilogue, and ... well, it's not exactly Bell/Moseby/Barfield out there, the idea of bringing a healthy Gonzalez to Boston is one worth considering. Hell, the idea of bringing Tony Sipp to Boston to play the outfield looks pretty reasonable at the moment, you know?

Upon first glance at his documented feats on baseball-reference.com, Gonzalez appears to be an elite player. Between 2010-13, he never had an OPS lower than .881. He hit at least 22 home runs and stole at least 20 bases in each of those seasons. He owns a career slash-line of .296/.354/.524, and his lifetime 123 OPS-plus is a point better than that of Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Paul Molitor and Tony Perez.

He had a truly awesome age-24 season in 2010, when he led the National League in batting (.336), hits (197) and total bases (351), scored 111 runs, hit 34 homers, won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and finished third in the MVP balloting.

He's also affordable for a high-quality player presumably in his prime, with three years and $43 million remaining on his contract beyond this year.

Even if you're reluctant to part with Betts -- and any Red Sox fan should be given the charismatic kid's monster performance since the beginning of last season -- Gonzalez appears to be a safe bet.

He's not. The first reason is the one so obvious at the moment -- he's a chronic injury risk. The most impressive number from that stellar '10 season is 145 -- that's the number of games he played, and it's a career high. Last year, he was again outstanding -- 26 homers, .958 OPS -- yet he was again too often absent, playing just 110 games. This year, he's played 52. He should be stalled on that number for a while.

There is also evidence that his numbers are enhanced and his offensive talent exaggerated by playing half his games at Coors Field, where he has gone .340/.402/.626 with 77 of his 133 career homers. On the road in his career -- and this includes his partial season with the 2008 A's -- he has gone just .262/.318/.443. His career OPS at home (.990) dwarfs his road OPS (.760). That is not a small sample, and thus it should be of significant concern to any team that considers trading for him once he returns to health.

If his habitual health issues and troubling splits aren't convincing enough reasons to be wary of CarGo, there's one more, which the outstanding baseball writer Matthew Kory brought up when I mentioned Sherman's column on Twitter last night:

Depends which dream we're talking about. I have many hopes and dreams.

There's the one about the 1980 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue with Christie Brinkley on the cover and a slightly tweaked plot to Weird Science.

There's the dream that I'll stop getting messages about how Ben Cherington blew it this offseason by not shaking up the core of a team that more or less breezed its third World Series title in 10 years in October.

There's the dream that Stephen Drew will get a second hit this season.

Oh, you mean this dream:

Three points to reiterate on Stanton: 1) He won't be traded this season and probably not even over the winter. 2) He will be traded once the price is about to get steep, just as Miguel Cabrera was after his .320/.401/.565 age-24 season in Florida. 3) The Red Sox must have the assets in place to pursue him when that day comes.

I don't think it's a wise idea to trade any prospect of genuine promise in an attempt to patchwork the major league roster this season. It's not so much outside help that they need; they need their established, accomplished veterans and promising young players to perform up to their ability.

It's tempting to consider acquiring someone like Gonzalez -- at least the Coors Field, healthy version of him -- to aid this Zupcician outfield.

But it's not the right move, especially if it means trading Betts.

He may help soon -- something that can't be said of Gonzalez at the moment -- or he may help reel in a bigger fish a year or two from now.