GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Adrian Gonzalez must have used a lousy travel agent. To get from San Diego to Los Angeles, he had to go through Boston with a year-and-a-half layover.
"This is the best situation for me. I couldn't be happier. They almost did me in a way a ...," the Dodgers' first baseman said, pulling up short of calling the most expensive trade in baseball history that sent him from Boston to L.A. a favor. "(They) put me in a situation I wouldn't be in coming from San Diego. I don't know if that trade could have happened -- coming from San Diego to here. It's almost like it was meant to be."
The Dodgers tried to bring Gonzalez to L.A. the direct way. In 2009, they reportedly offered five players (including regulars James Loney and Russell Martin) for Gonzalez and reliever Heath Bell, two players rapidly becoming too expensive for the small-market Padres. The Padres opted to keep Gonzalez through 2010. By then, the Dodgers were operating like a small-market team themselves and watched the Red Sox acquire Gonzalez and give him a seven-year, $154 million contract extension that kicked in last year.
Gonzalez had the best year of his career in 2011, batting .338 with a league-leading 213 hits, 27 home runs and 117 RBIs. He won both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards for American League first basemen. But by the time he accepted those awards, things had begun to change in Boston.
The Red Sox's epic collapse in 2011 set the sharks circling. Stories about beer and chicken in the clubhouse, a managerial change and alleged player revolt against the new manager became the narrative in Boston last year. Gonzalez was caught up in it but he claims now he never soured on the hyper-intense atmosphere that comes with playing in the fishbowl that is Boston.
"It's a situation -- I guess most places are like that -- when you're traded like we were, they spin it to make you sound like a bad guy," Gonzalez said. "I think at the end of the day, I had a great time. I had a great experience. I'm really happy for the opportunity to play there. But now, I'm really really happy and excited to be here and really excited about where the team is heading and what we have an opportunity to do here.
"At the end of the day, it's about winning and we didn't make the playoffs (in Boston) and that's what people focus on. If we had made the playoffs, it would have been an amazing year for me (in 2011). ... Then last year, it wasn't a good enough year because I didn't help the team be in contention. That's what led to the trade. When a team's not playing well, there's changes that are going to be made."
When the Dodgers finally did get their man, it was less about what they gave up (five players) than what they took on -- the contracts of Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett. They (along with Nick Punto) were the potentially useful but expensive pieces the Dodgers had to take on in order to get Gonzalez.
By the time he made it to Los Angeles, the conversation surrounding Gonzalez was less about how good a player the four-time All-Star is and more about money and the drama in Boston.
"It's tough," Punto observed. "When you are one of the elite players in the game, there's an added layer of pressure. You're held accountable. In a way, it's much easier being one of the guys who don't make as much.
"I think the fans in Boston knew how good he was. We just didn't get it done as a group. It didn't have to do with the manager or the atmosphere. ... I think he still is (one of the best hitters in the game)."
Nonetheless, Gonzalez's power has declined each season since he hit a career-high 40 home runs in 2009 (thanks in part to a shoulder injury that required surgery in October 2010) and he posted his lowest full-season totals in home runs (18), walks (42), on-base percentage (.344) and slugging percentage (.463) during last year's upheaval. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly notes that the Gonzalez who joined the Dodgers last season was "a little different" as a hitter, a little more pull-conscious than the one he remembered seeing with the Padres. But Mattingly has no doubt the 30-year-old Gonzalez is still the same elite hitter he has been for most of his career.
"Let's look at the two years over there," Mattingly said of Gonzalez's detour to Boston. "The first one was .330 or something with 28 bombs and 120 (RBI). If that's bad, we'll take it all year long. I know what happened last year. The media gets going on something like that, it just doesn't rest. ... We're happy that Adrian is here and confident in what he brings to the table."
Third baseman Luis Cruz was scheduled to start Tuesday's game against the Giants but he was scratched because of the stomach flu. Outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. was held out of workouts because of a sore groin muscle. Gwynn played with a sports hernia last season. ... Left-hander Ted Lilly is scheduled to make his spring debut Thursday against the Angels. It will be Lilly's first game action since shoulder surgery last September.
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