By Chad Finn and Gary Dzen
A formal member of the Red Sox for hours if not moments, Adrian Gonzalez already knew the right words to appease his new fans.
“I’m very excited that everything was able to be worked out,” said Gonzalez this afternoon at a Fenway Park press conference formally announcing the slugging first baseman’s acquisition from the San Diego Padres in exchange for prospects Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, and Reymond Fuentes, as well as a player to be named later.
“I’m very excited to be here in Boston and ready to beat the Yankees.”
If the Red Sox are to beat their chief rival in 2011 and beyond, Gonzalez will likely be a major reason why. He is arguably — or perhaps not-so-arguably — the ideal acquisition for the Red Sox this offseason, a patient, superb lefthanded power-hitter who mauls lefthanded pitching and plays a polished first base.
In five seasons with the Padres, he averaged 32 homers a season, led the NL with 119 walks in 2009, and also hit a career-high 40 homers that season, 28 away from hitter-tormenting Petco Park.
Gonzalez said joining the Red Sox is the culmination of a childhood dream.
“I’ve had five incredible years in San Diego and grew up wanted to be a Padre, and my dream as a kid was to play in the major leagues and be a Padre,” said Gonzalez after posing for the requisite photo op in his new jersey with Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and owner John Henry. “And my second dream was to be a Red Sox.”
Gonzalez was asked why a San Diego kid would want to grow up to play in Boston.
“It was a couple of connections,” said the 28-year-old, who was the first overall choice in the 2000 amateur draft by the Florida Marlins. “It was one of those things where you grow up and you always root for a National League team and an American League team. And the Red Sox had always been the American League team I rooted for, with Teddy Williams, him being from San Diego and being a lefthanded hitter and one of the greats of all time, there have always been a lot of connections there.”
The feeling among Red Sox management has long been mutual. Epstein has coveted Gonzalez for years, dating to the days when the player was a backup for the Texas Rangers, before he established himself as one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League over the last five seasons with the Padres.
After pursuing Gonzalez at various points since at least the July trading deadline in 2009 — and with an additional day of drama Sunday, when there were reports that the deal had fallen apart when a long-term extension couldn’t be reached — Epstein finally got his man.
“At the trade deadline in 2009, we spoke to the Padres about him when Kevin Towers was the general manager, and that didn’t work out,” Epstein said. “Last offseason, with Jed [Hoyer, a former Red Sox assistant who is now the Padres GM], we talked, and that didn’t work out. But when we heard the comments earlier [this offseason] that they didn’t expect to be able to sign him long-term, we took that as an indication that maybe they’d be more open to listening to a possible trade.”
While the trade is complete, Epstein said the Red Sox have yet to finalize a long-term extension with Gonzalez. The Sox general manager is confident that the framework is in place to eventually sign Gonzalez.
“There was a lot of negotiation over the course of the weekend,” said Epstein. “We sat down — Larry Lucchino was involved — and I think we learned a lot about each other’s positions. There was a lot of good faith that developed over the course of the negotiations. I think we have an understanding. Both sides have an understanding of what it would take when the time is right.
“We got close to a deal, but in the end when the window lapsed and we didn’t have a deal, we decided to go forward with the trade anyways as a demonstration of the good faith that developed. Had we not gotten to know Adrian and his wife and what they were all about over the course of the weekend, we wouldn’t have had that comfort. It’s just such a good fit. Adrian wants to be a Red Sox. We want him to be a Red Sox for a long time. We’re very confident that when the time is right we’ll be able to work something out.”
The Red Sox and Padres agreed to the parameters of the trade on Saturday, but various reports Sunday said the deal was on the verge of collapsing because the Sox and Gonzalez’s representatives could not agree on terms for an extension. On the weekend’s negotiations and the on-again, off-again nature of the deal, Gonzalez said, “It was very emotional. It was very up and down. I’m very excited everything was able to be worked out, just very excited to be here in Boston.”
Said Red Sox owner John Henry, “It’s not unusual that when you have a time constraint you might go over that time constraint … I don’t think there was much doubt in my mind through this whole period that we would make a deal, given the dynamics and the people involved … Both sides knew they wanted Adrian in a Red Sox uniform for the rest of his career.”
Gonzalez, of course, should benefit from playing at Fenway Park, where Epstein said he will “wear out” the Green Monster. But Epstein expects Gonzalez to be a perfect fit with Boston’s off-the-field pressures as well.
“I think he’s someone who’s driven for all the right reasons,” said Epstein. “He’s not externally driven. He’s not in it for the money, not in it for himself. He’s driven by his teammates. He’s driven to win. He’s driven to become one of the best of all time. And I think people who have that type of profile tend to do well in any environment, even the most pressure-filled environments.”
Gonzalez said he would embrace the change.
“You want to be in the best situation possible when you’re in your prime,” he said. “I believe this is the best place and the best situation. I’m very excited to be a part of this town, the city, the fans, the energy that the fans bring…there’s going to be a lot more energy at the ballpark.”