Trade talk already heating up around Padres' Gonzalez
Adrian Gonzalez has one guaranteed year and one option year left
Few people around baseball expect San Diego to pull off an extension
PEORIA, Ariz. -- In the one conversation he had with the Padres a few months ago regarding his superstar client, Adrian Gonzalez, agent John Boggs threw out this interesting thought. "We have to take a look at what [Mark] Teixeira got and go from there."
The Padres have yet to counter Boggs's suggetion, seeming to increase the chances Gonzalez willbe traded and not signed. Though, GM Jed Hoyer said, "We're certainly going to explore all the possibilities. We'll keep it internal, whatever we do.''
Even though it hasn't sparked any dialogue yet, it makes for an intriguing debate, since Teixeira and Gonzalez are both Gold Glove-winning power-hitters in their prime. According to an official with another club, the belief is that the cost-conscious Padres would prefer do something closer to half of the eight-year, $180-million deal Teixeira got from the Yankees last offseason -- say $90 million for five years.
If that's anywhere close to the case, that gap will be hard to bridge before this year's trade deadline, when competing executives still expect Gonzalez to be the marquee man on the block.
If Gonzalez isn't amenable to some real compromising, then chances for a contract extension with the Padres are remote, and there's no indication he's about to take a hometown discount now.
"You never say never, but it's something that isn't at the top of our list to do," said Boggs of a possible hometown discout for Gonzalez, a San Diego native who has spent the past four seasons with the Padres. "Adrian will take a look at anything that is fair and reasonable but if it's so vastly reduced, that doesn't make any sense. Adrian is lookng to basically establish his value."
The Teixeira contract isn't an unreasonable request, judging by three baseball executives who were asked Tuesday who was the better player. All three struggled to some degree with their answer. All saw Teixeira as slightly better defensively but they also wondered whether Gonzalez is a slightly more dangerous hitter. Either way, Teixeira surely is Gonzalez's most obvious comparison.
But that doesn't necessarily mean Gonzalez will get a similar contract. As one GM pointed out, Teixeira benefitted from a Red Sox-Yankees bidding war to get his $180 million, which won't happen for Gonzalez with Teixeira now manning first in the Bronx. "There might be the Mets and Red Sox, but that isn't the same as Yankees-Red Sox,'' that GM noted.
Even before any numbers (the $180 million request) or even estimates ($90 million) came to light, three other baseball executives from competing teams said last week that they believe there's little chance for Gonzalez to last in San Diego through the remaining two years of the contract that will pay him about $10.25 million total over that time. The consensus seems to be that the Padres will keep him only until this year's trade deadline, then shop him hard unless they overcome long odds to play their way into the NL West race.
In fact, there is already constant trade buzz chatter in the Cactus League, and Gonzalez is not too happy about it, calling it "unnecessary and unneeded."
Gonzalez, who has a $5.9 million club option for 2011 that will almost certainly be picked up, is still two years from free agency. Assuming no one signs early, he would hit a market with an unprecedented and almost absurdly good group of first-base superstars, including Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder. One agent characterized it as "the greatest first-base class of alltime."
Gonzalez, a very bright man, understands the math is going to be difficult for San Diego. Speaking generally and without reiterating the price that Boggs named to the Padres in December, Gonzalez allowed, "You can't have one player making 50 percent of the payroll.''
And what if he was that one player making $20 million on a $40-something-million payroll (the Padres' payroll is currently in the 40s)? "To live up to that deal, I'd have to hit 100 home runs and drive in 400 runs," he said.
Some do view Gonzalez as almost superhuman after he hit 40 home runs last season while playing half his game in pitchers' haven PETCO Park (28 of the dingers came on the road). That's why the phones in the executive offices of the Padres have been that buzzing with calls of inquiry for the 27-year-old star who's one of the greatest bargains in the game.
Most expect Gonzalez to be traded before his current deal is up, quite likely before next season. Here there is another similarity to Teixeira, who was traded from the Rangers to the Braves in 2007, a year and a half before he hit free agency. Padres people have to understand that that trade brought a haul to Texas because of how much time Teixiera had left on his deal, whereas the returns start to diminish once there's only one year or less left.
Gonzalez is keenly aware of the trade possibility. "I've been traded twice before, it's no big deal,'' he said in his characteristically calm manner.
It would be a big deal for the teams involved, including the Padres themselves. Shortstop David Eckstein, one of the few veterans on the club, said it's up to his teammates to play well enough to convince team brass to keep him and get attendance back to where it was in 2007, when PETCO Park was drawing fans in hordes. But Eckstein is also aware it may be out of their control and he said he could see the possibility of a "Herschel Walker-type'' deal.
The Red Sox have long been considered a favorite to trade for Gonzalez, partly because of their strong interest at the deadline last year (they built a package around closer prospect Daniel Bard but wouldn't include Clay Buchholz) and also their connection with Hoyer, a longtime Red Sox executive who remains close with Boston GM Theo Epstein. But there are believed to be as many as 10 to 12 teams interested. The Mets called, and the Mariners and Dodgers are thought to have inquired, too.
More teams are just starting to surface. Ex-Padres star Jake Peavy revealed to CBSsports.com that his new team, the White Sox, have interest, which should come as no surprise considering their need for a middle-of-the-lineup presence and GM Ken Williams' love of big talent, and big deals. "I'm flattered,'' Gonzalez said of Peavy's campaign.
The White Sox chatter led to speculation that top young infielder Gordon Beckham might have to be included, but a Sox person suggested to SI.com that Beckham may be untouchable. The Sox might be more amenable to Tyler Flowers, Sergio Santos and Daniel Hudson as part of a package -- though that sort of package wouldn't exactly qualify as a Herschel Walker-like trade.
Whatever the package might be, it would have to be a haul considering Gonzalez is conservatively a $20-million-a-year player, meaning he's worth $40 million over the next two years, or about $30 million more than his current contract calls for. (Gonzalez says he doesn't regret the four-year extension he signed with the Padres in April 2007. It was a security-driven deal that paid him like other early-signing stars but it was a plus in that it only covers his arbitration-eligible years and didn't buy out any of his free agent years.)
There was word all the trade talk affected him last summer, when he hit .198 in July. But you can't tell it from Gonzalez himself, who seems like a rock. "I'm not oblivious to what's going on ... and I know how to handle it,'' Gonzalez said. "It's not going to get in the way.''
Boggs publicly lamented that these talks appear to be nothing like the other high-profile hometown talks going on, the ones between the Twins and their superstar catcher Joe Mauer, of St. Paul, Minn., but Gonzalez seems remarkably unconcerned. There are also some differences in the two cases, minor and otherwise, and Gonzalez seems to accept that. Gonzalez was born in San Diego, and grew up in Tijuana and San Diego, but he was drafted by the Marlins and has been with three organizations already. The Twins, who have long been viewed as a low-paying, small-market team, now have roughly double the Padres payroll -- about $90 million to about $45 million -- and by all outside appearances, are going to do whatever they can to keep Mauer in Minnesota.
While Gonzalez said he likes San Diego -- "I'm from San Diego. I'm a Padre fan. Playing for the team I grew up watching and rooting for, there's nothing to complain about,'' -- he also may see that there are both advantages and disadvantages to playing at home, "It's good, it's fine,'' he said, adding. "There are a lot more off-field things that keep me busy.''
There's also the matter of his home ballpark, which may be inhibiting his chances of being the national star he can be. But he claims to see the bright side. "I don't hit well at PETCO, but it does help correct my swing. Playing in a hitters park you fall into traps. You tend to try to elevate more.''
In contrast, he claimed PETCO helps correct his swings whenever he gets into unwanted habits on the road.
It may not be long before Gonzalez gets to test that theory.
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