The Padres' surprising 2010 campaign might ensure that Adrian Gonzalez at least starts next season in San Diego, since the club will want to see if they can capture the same lightning in a bottle in 2011. But if the Padres fall out of contention early (as they were expected to do last year), the simmering Gonzalez trade market will again catch fire.
Don Norcross of the San Diego Union-Tribune recapped the difficulty — or impossibility — that the Padres will have in signing Gonzalez to the expensive, long-term contract that he'll no doubt command when he reaches free agency after the 2011 season. Norcross named three "favorites" and two dark horses as possible homes for Gonzalez come Opening Day 2012, so let's take a closer look at these options…
- The Red Sox. Boston has been at the forefront of Gonzalez rumors for over a year, and there's no question the Sox will be involved in trade talks for the slugger right down to the wire.
- The Giants. Norcross somewhat surprisingly adds them to his favorites list, pointing out that Aubrey Huff could be moved to the outfield (if he's re-signed at all) to accommodate Gonzalez at first base. It's hard to picture San Diego dealing Gonzalez to a division rival, plus San Francisco isn't the kind of big market that could afford A-Gon's future contract. That said, the Giants are rewriting their own history right now in the World Series. They might decide to just go for broke and acquire Gonzalez while their window of contention is open.
- The Angels. As Norcross notes, L.A. is close to home for the San Diego-born Gonzalez, and the Halos will pay the money for top talent. Kendry Morales is relegated to the outfield or the DH spot in Norcross' scenario, but Morales could also be the centerpiece of the Angels' trade package to San Diego.
- The Dodgers. One of the darkhorse contenders depending on if a new owner takes control of the team and wants to make an instant impact. Gonzalez could be in a new uniform well before the Dodgers' ownership situation is settled, so we can probably write off at least one L.A. team.
- The Cubs. Gonzalez himself has shown some interest in playing in Chicago, but the Cubs might be looking to add Adam Dunn to play first base this winter.
Besides these five teams, a number of other clubs can and will arise in the market depending on how this offseason pans out. The White Sox might need first base help if Paul Konerko departs, and could be interested in a long-term answer at first anyway given Konerko's age. Texas might try to undo their infamous Gonzalez/Chris Young for Adam Eaton/Akinori Otsuka swap in 2006 and make a play for the first baseman. Teams like Toronto, Baltimore, Washington or Seattle don't seem like candidates now, but could dive into the free agent market next winter if they think they're close to contention. Even St. Louis could be considered a possibility if they're unable to come to terms on an extension for Albert Pujols.