EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 27, 2006

Shortstop Gonzo hopes for extended stay

On Baseball

BOSTON - The Red Sox aren't completely done with the 2006 season, but their final few games aren't preventing some from dipping their toes in the drama that will be the upcoming offseason.

Yesterday, Alex Gonzalez helped start the process.

The Red Sox shortstop made it clear what it will take to get him back in Boston next season. And, according to Gonzalez, that doesn't include the kind of one-year deal he played under this year.

"Three years," said the impending free agent when asked what he will be looking for in the open market. "I'm tired of going year to year. I have to take care of my family, too. It's not so much for me, but for my family. I have two kids, so I'm looking for three or four years.

"It's really hard to play year by year. You have to think about it a lot. But maybe if you sign three or four years, you will play better."

The number of years might appear to be a bit high for Boston's taste, given that the Red Sox, 5-1 winners last night over visiting Tampa Bay, signed Gonzalez to a one-year, $3 million deal last offseason after watching the shortstop play winter ball in Venezuela. They were convinced that his injured elbow was not a factor.

It wasn't an ideal scenario for the 29-year-old, who also received one-year offers from Toronto and Arizona. That has changed after Gonzalez's performance this season, in which he is hitting nine points above his career average while maintaining a .985 fielding percentage (7 errors in 475 chances).

Another plus Gonzalez has going for him is the dearth of shortstops he will be competing with for the free-agent bucks. Some of the viable shortstops available this winter include Craig Counsell (whom the Red Sox showed mild interest in before inking Edgar Renteria), current Boston utilityman Alex Cora and the prize of the open market, Julio Lugo.

By most accounts, it's Lugo who will have the biggest say in what transpires to both of Boston's middle infield positions. The Red Sox have already made three runs at the 30-year-old - the last two non-waiver trade deadlines as well as last December - and figure to do so again with the club's need for more offense.

"Defensively, compared to what I heard the previous year, I thought he played much better this year. He made less mistakes," said Lugo's former manager, Tampa Bay skipper Joe Maddon. "As a teammate, he's unbelievable. He has energy every night. He's one of those guys who loves to play.

"He likes the bright lights, like Orlando Cabrera. Being around Orlando, I know he liked the spotlight. It's unfortunate that in Los Angeles (Lugo) is not getting the opportunity right now with the personnel they have right now. I think he would thrive under the right circumstances."

But since being traded to the Dodgers at the non-waiver deadline, Lugo has done nothing to enhance his value. Playing third base, second base, shortstop and the outfield, he has hit .214 with no home runs in 44 games, compared to the .308 average and 12 homers he compiled for the Devil Rays through July.

Lugo is making $4.95 million in the final year of his contract and asked for a four-year deal from Tampa Bay, averaging between $8 million to $10 million a season before being dealt to Los Angeles.

The other option for Boston, as was the case after dealing Renteria, remains Cora, who also will be a free agent this offseason. The 30-year-old has played more games at shortstop this season since 2001, making six errors in 60 appearances at the position.

"The good thing about it is that I was able to play short, and I hadn't played short for a while. We'll see what happens," said Cora, who listed the odds of a return to Boston as 50-50.

"It's the first time I'm going to be a free agent, by my choice. It's a great organization, but I think there are a lot of things they are going to do in the offseason that will affect that."

One of those potential moves will certainly involve Gonzalez.

"I haven't heard anything about it," Gonzalez said. "They haven't talked to me, and they haven't talked to my agent (Eric Goldschmidt).

"I haven't (thought about playing on a one-year deal) much. But if you have three or four years, you are a little more relaxed. Maybe you play better."