Sources with knowledge of the talks confirmed to CBSSports.com late Friday night that the two clubs are discussing a blockbuster that would send a package of prospects to the Padres in exchange for Gonzalez, the three-time All-Star who is entering the final year of his contract in 2011 before he becomes eligible for free agency.
The Red Sox, under general manager Theo Epstein, have taken multiple runs at acquiring Gonzalez going all the way back to '09. At this moment, they appear closer to landing the slugger than they ever have before. There were indications late Friday night that a deal possibly could even be reached before the clubs get too deep into next week's winter meetings that begin in Orlando on Monday.
Traveling parallel paths in looking for a big hitter, the Red Sox this week have spoken with free agents Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre. With Kevin Youkilis reportedly working out at third base this winter, the Sox would have the flexibility, if they do not re-sign Beltre, to move Youkilis across the diamond and plug in Gonzalez at first base.
Of course, in negotiations, things are not always what they seem, and the Red Sox currently are juggling enough possibilities that a well-timed run at Gonzalez also could be designed to break the will of Beltre and cause him to lower his asking price and re-sign with them sooner rather than later. Theoretically, with Beltre in the fold, Youkilis would stay at first base and the Red Sox could turn away from the San Diego talks.
However, late Friday night, that's not the way Boston appeared to be moving. Conversations with the Padres were said to have gained momentum throughout the day on Friday.
While neither San Diego general manager Jed Hoyer nor Gonzalez could be reached for comment, a couple of things are in play here:
One, Gonzalez, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder after the season ended, has not given any indication that he's amenable to signing a long-term deal with San Diego for a discounted price.
And two, the Padres, surprise winners of 90 games in 2010, likely realize that their optimal time to move him is now, when they surely would receive a bigger package of players in return than they would in July, when Gonzalez might be a three-month rental for a contending team.
While trading Gonzalez would be a public relations disaster for a San Diego club whose attendance already was disappointing in 2010, the Padres have been taking on water this winter, anyway.
Already, they've lost three key pieces from a team that managed to stay in contention all the way to the last day of last season: Pitcher Jon Garland has signed with the division-rival Dodgers, infielder Miguel Tejada has signed with the division-rival Giants and catcher Yorvit Torrealba has fled to Texas.
As things stand now, the Padres have serious holes in their rotation and in their middle infield. And the 2011 payroll is not projected to rise much beyond the low $40 millions. In 2010, only the Pirates had a lower payroll than San Diego.
Consequently, despite their surprise season in 2010, the Padres appear to be veering more toward rebuilding with young pieces -- witness their acquisition of outfielder Cameron Maybin from Florida earlier this winter -- than toward contending again.
Much as it would be unpalatable to the local fans to see Gonzalez, a San Diego native, dealt, he currently appears on a dead-end course with the Padres, and trading him clearly is their best shot at quickly accumulating three or four players who would either be major-league ready, or help fertilize the upper-levels of a weak farm system.
Hoyer, who just completed his first season as Padres' GM, and his assistant Jason McLeod, each worked under Epstein in Boston through the end of the 2009 season. As scouting director for the Red Sox, McLeod knows their system exceedingly well. The Epstein-Hoyer relationship is another reason why many in the industry have predicted Gonzalez would wind up in Fenway Park since Hoyer replaced Kevin Towers in the GM's chair.
Though the Padres picked up Gonzalez's $5.5 million contract for 2011, there remain no indications that he will be a San Diego lifer. Gonzalez is looking for Ryan Howard-Mark Teixeira-Albert Pujols money, a six- or seven-year deal worth somewhere north of $20 million a year.
The Padres sent strong signals that they intended to trade Gonzalez last year until their unexpectedly good season caused them to keep that team together. Though Gonzalez is a local hero and a highly popular Hispanic player for a team that draws from Mexico, there were zero promotions for Gonzalez during the 2010 season. No cover of the media guide, no bobble-head nights, no posters, nothing. It was a strong signal that he was not in their long-term plans.
Gonzalez last year batted .298 with 31 homers and 101 RBI despite being bothered by a damaged right shoulder beginning in May. With two good shoulders in '09, Gonzalez crushed 40 home runs with 99 RBI.
With numbers like that in the cavernous Petco Park, you can't blame the Red Sox for dreaming about the damage the lefty swinging Gonzalez could do in Fenway Park -- especially with David Ortiz moving into the, ahem, twilight of his career.
Some 16 months after the Red Sox first started talking with the Padres about Gonzalez, they appear closer than ever to making that happen. And they still would have money left for either Werth or Crawford.