September started with Red Sox off-season acquisition Adrian Gonzalez as part of the AL MVP discussion, along with two of his teammates: 2008 MVP Dustin Pedroia and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. While a substantial number of words were spilled this winter about Boston’s acquisition of the All-Star first baseman and his subsequent contract extension, his old team, the San Diego Padres, should be satisfied with the way things turned out for the team during Gonzalez’s tenure in Southern California.
Gonzalez was originally selected first overall by the Florida Marlins during the 2000 amateur draft. Just three short years later the young first baseman was traded, along with Will Smith and Ryan Snare to the Texas Rangers for Ugueth Urbina. The Rangers of course had their own stud first base prospect, Mark Teixeira, who made his major league debut on April of that year. By hitting .259/.331/.480 while clubbing 26 home runs, Teixeira finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting and never looked back.
The Marlins probable sold too early on Gonzalez considering his pedigree as a first overall pick and solid progression through the farm system including hitting .266/.344/.437 in AA Portland in 2002. Off-season wrist surgery would put a damper on his 2003 numbers, both with the Marlins and then with the Rangers. Across three teams in 2003, over 493 plate appearances, Gonzalez hit just .269/.327/.365 – good for a .692 OPS. His home run total sat at just five. Nonetheless the 2004 edition of Baseball Prospectus declared the first baseman as Rangers GM Jon Hart’s “crown jewel” of mid-season acquisitions and expected a full recovery along with Gonzalez forcing his way into the Rangers lineup by 2005 or sooner.
Sure enough, Gonzalez mashed AAA pitching to the tune of .304/.364/.457 in 2004 and .338/.399/.561 in 2005. Unfortunately the success did not translate to his first exposure in the majors. Making his Major League debut in April 2004, the top prospect hit just .238/.273/.381 in a cup of coffee with the team. In more than three times the plate appearances in 2005 (still just 162), Gonzalez again struggled with a line of .227/.272/.407. Unfortunately it was at this point that the Rangers, with Mark Teixeira now well established at first base and still under their control through the 2008 season, decided to trade from their position of strength, first basemen, for pitching help.
In January 2006, Adrian Gonzalez, Terrmel Sledge, and the pitching version of Chris Young were sent to the NL West San Diego Padres for major league pitchers Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka and minor league catching prospect Billy Killian. Things did not go well in the Ballpark at Arlington.
Adam Eaton, brought in to solidify the starting rotation, was limited to just 65 innings in 2006 and left as a free agent at the end of the season. After winning eleven games in back-to-back seasons before arriving in Texas, despite ERAs of 4.61 and 4.29, Eaton tallied just seven victories in his limited time on the mound with a bloated 5.12 ERA and WHIP of 1.57. His 5.95 K/9 was a career worst and part of a downward trend for the hurler since his 2001 season where he recorded 8.41 strikeouts per nine innings. Eaton was a better at home (.281/.346/.459) than away (.322/.391/.513) and subject to a reverse split with lefties hitting just .279/.340/.382 while watching their right handed counterparts tee off against Eaton: .320/.393/.592.
Right-handed reliever Akinori Otsuka fared somewhat better. In two seasons with Texas, one as their primary closer, the Japanese righty tossed 92 innings of 2.25 ERA. He averaged just under seven K/9 but registered a superb 3.50 KK/BB during his time in Arlington. Unfortunately, injuries limited Otsuka in 2007 and that concluded his tenure with the Rangers. While he did provide some value out of the ‘pen, it was not the difference making impact the Rangers should have gotten in return for a perfectly good player ho had the misfortune to be blocked at his position.
As for Killian, he spent two seasons in the minors with Texas before moving to the White Sox farm system. He has never appeared in the Major Leagues.
When it comes down to it, this was simply not a good trade for the Rangers. At worst, Gonzalez could have been a designated hitter for a team with a very potent lineup. According to the Fangraphs’ version of WAR, Adrian Gonzalez alone worth 21.8 WAR. Adam Eaton just 0.6 and Akinori Otuska 3.0 over his two seasons with the team. Chirs Young, even battling injuries brought with him an additional 4.9 WAR. Terrmel Sledge was worth -0.3 WAR.
All things considered, the Rangers may have misread the market, trading too good a hitter for pitchers who were not young kids yet to break in or established top-shelf veterans. The Rangers traded a future superstar for commodities that just did not match up in value.
Did the Padres get a better haul for their prize? Gonzalez was certainly worth even more last winter than in 2006 and San Diego managed to snag several of Boston’s top prospects. If they pan out, the value might look good in a few years. If not, the Padres at least got promising young players in return.