Alex Rodriguez wasn’t the only former No. 1 overall pick to find himself in the news recently. Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez homered against his former employer, the Boston Red Sox, in Sunday night’s series clinching win. It was Gonzalez’s 300th career home run, making him the 140th player to achieve such a milestone.
That was Gonzalez’s 10th homer of the season, a surprisingly low number for a career power hitter. The 13-year veteran is 11th of all current players in homers. Gonzalez was the top overall pick in the 2000 draft by the Florida Marlins. The Marlins traded him to Texas after an injury prompted them to believe he wouldn’t develop as hoped (add that to a long list of Miami miscues). Gonzalez would eventually be traded again to play for his hometown San Diego Padres. He prospered with the Padres until being dealt to Boston. Boston moved him back to Southern California in a massive salary dump. Gonzalez is the lone piece standing from that mega trade.
With first overall picks on the mind, today’s question: Where does A-Gon stack up versus his fellow top picks this millennium?
2000: Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Florida/Miami
2001: Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota
2002: Bryan Bullington, P, Pittsburgh
2003: Delmon Young, OF, Tampa Bay
2004: Matt Bush, SS, San Diego
2005: Justin Upton, SS, Arizona
2006: Luke Hochevar, P, Kansas City
2007: David Price, P, Tampa Bay
2008: Tim Beckham, SS, Tampa Bay
2009: Stephen Strasburg, P, Washington
2010: Bryce Harper, OF, Washington
2011: Gerrit Cole, P, Pittsburgh
2012: Carlos Correa, SS, Houston
2013: Mark Appel, P, Houston
2014: Brady Aiken, P, Houston (unsigned)
2015: Dansby Swanson, SS, Arizona
2016: Mickey Moniak, OF, Philadelphia
If the list shows anything, it’s that owning the first pick doesn’t guarantee a franchise player. Without question, Bullington, Young, Bush, Hochevar and Beckham had/are having less productive careers than Gonzalez. It’s too early to include Appel, Aiken*, Swanson and Moniak in discussions. As great as Correa already is and will be, he’s only played 206 career games. His trajectory suggests he will surpass Gonzalez, but there’s too much in play to compare a 34-year-old to a 21-year-old at this point in time.
That leaves Mauer, Upton, Price, Strasburg, Harper and Cole as players who have proven themselves worthy of being first off the board. But how do they stack up against Gonzalez?
Gonzalez’s career stats: .290/.363/.493, 1,905 hits, 300 home runs, 1,109 RBI
Vs. Gerrit Cole: Cole is a bona fide ace starter at age 25. He’s been a key component of the baseball renaissance in the Steel City. The former UCLA Bruin has compiled a 3.05 ERA in 90 starts since hitting the majors in 2010. He has a 2.94 ERA on a disappointing Pirates team in 2016, and was even better with a 2.60 ERA as an All-Star in 2015. Even before cracking the Bigs, Cole was highly regarded as a power pitcher with a varying repertoire.
The Pirates lacked a true No. 1 pitcher for what felt like an eternity. Cole was just what the franchise needed. Having only been in the MLB since 2013, Cole has a ways to go before hitting 13 years pro. But like Gonzalez, appears destined to be among the top of his position for years to come. It’s hard to compare the value of a pitcher versus a hitter, especially factoring in the age circumstances. But for now, the more productive player gets the nod.
Vs. Bryce Harper: Now an MVP, Harper is largely considered the best or second best player in baseball. Love him or hate him, he is a generational talent who will march into Cooperstown. Though this season hasn’t been a smooth ride. With a disappointing .233 average in 2016, his career slash line sits at .280/.383/.505. The Nationals are winning without Harper producing to his ability. Coming off an MVP season, this was the last result anyone would expect.
As tremendous a career as Gonzalez has had, he has never been the overall player Harper proved to be a season ago. Even in the midst of a letdown season, bet on Harper to continue accelerating towards the top. Don’t forget: He’s still just 23 years old.
Vs. Stephen Strasburg: Washington was bad at the right time, acquiring Strasburg and Harper with back-to-back first picks.
Strasburg, like Cole, has been a top of the rotation starter and made a quick impact. He’s pitched to a 3.05 ERA and 2.83 FIP since 2010. This season has been his best yet, posting a 2.80 ERA and FIP. While pitchers’ records are often misleading, 15-2 is impressive.
Yet until this year, it felt Strasburg wasn’t living up to the lofty expectations placed on him since San Diego State. The pressure of being a phenom isn’t forgiving.
Strasburg is 27 years old. He’s had a fantastic career, but as said earlier, it’s hard to compare bats versus arms. Gonzalez impacts the game daily, so that tilts it in his favor.
Vs. David Price: Price can’t be declared a bust signing yet, but he’s not off to a good start in Boston. He’s 9-8 with a 4.34 ERA, but a 3.42 FIP suggests some bad luck along the way. Before this season, Price was consistently dominant.
Tampa Bay took Price out of Vanderbilt and he immediately became its prized possession. He was given a role in the bullpen on a contending Rays team in 2008, then broke out in 2010 with a 19-6, 2.72 ERA season. Price was traded to Detroit at the 2014 deadline, was moved again to Toronto at last year’s deadline, then departed for Boston in the winter.
Price, as the other two pitchers listed, is a power guy. He’s routinely been one of baseball’s premier strikeout artists. With his 1,531 strikeouts, he’s gathered a 3.21 ERA in 237 starts.
Gonzalez has been the more valuable player over their careers, but Price was a home run No. 1 pick as well.
Vs. Justin Upton: Similar to Strasburg, Upton’s career is often considered an underachievement, though there’s plenty of players who wish they “underachieved” as Upton has.
.269/.347/.467 isn’t a line indicative of Upton’s talent level, but it’s what he’s produced thus far. Cracking into the majors at 19 with the Diamondbacks, Upton looked to be the next generational superstar. His first five years saw moments of brilliance overshadowed by rumored attitude issues. Despite his talent, his name was floated in trade rumors constantly.
Eventually the rumors proved true, and Upton was dealt to Atlanta. He hit 27 and 29 homers in his two seasons there, but was again plagued by his streaky tendencies. The Braves decided to ignite a rebuild and traded him to the Padres. He hit 26 home runs and collected 81 RBI with a .251 average, but San Diego fell to pieces and it was all for not. Upton signed with the Tigers last winter, and is hovering around his career norms.
Upton is an underachiever, and while he’s still a good player, he falls short of Gonzalez.
Vs. Joe Mauer: Mauer is everything any franchise could want from a top pick. The hometown kid who spends his career with one team, even signing for a “discount” to stay. The Twins haven’t won a championship with Mauer, but he has been the perfect representation of professional sports in Minnesota since he was picked.
Mauer’s slash line of .311/.393/.448 is better than Gonzalez’s, though Adrian has Mauer beat in hits, homers and RBI. Also consider Mauer was the best catcher in the league for much of his career.
This is a tough one. Mauer has the case of excelling at his position in a way few can claim, but Gonzalez was the bigger bat. Both players entered the league in 2004, as well. In the end, Mauer is hard to go against because of the rarity of offensive catchers and the slightly better bat over the lifetime of their careers.
By that, Gonzalez would be considered the third best first overall pick since 2000, and his days in Dodger blue aren’t over yet. The power is running out and he is entering the twilight of his career, but few players have been more reliable than A-Gon in the last decade.
Boston got the better end of its trade with L.A. No one is refuting that. But Gonzalez has been an outstanding contributor and has been embraced by fans the whole way. If he helps the Dodgers get a ring, no one cares how he was acquired. Gonzalez has been one of the team’s best players since arriving at Chavez Ravine.
Not bad for a salary dump, huh?