JAWS and the 2024 Hall of Fame Ballot: Adrián González

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2024 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2024 BBWAA Candidate: Adrián González
Adrián González 1B 43.5 34.6 39.1 2,050 317 .287/.358/.485 129
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Joe Mauer isn’t the only number one pick on this year’s ballot. In 2000, one year before the Twins took Mauer with the first pick, the Marlins used the top pick to select Adrián González out of Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, California. He would turn out to be one of the more successful number one picks, making five All-Star teams, winning four Gold Gloves, and receiving MVP votes in eight different seasons in his 15-year major league career spent with the Rangers, Padres, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Mets. He never played a major league game for the Marlins, however, and was traded five times, including twice at the center of his era’s biggest blockbusters. Along with his two older brothers, he also continued the legacy of his father, David González Sr., by representing Mexico in international competition.

Adrián Sabin González was born on May 8, 1982 in San Diego, California, the youngest of three sons of David and Alba González. His father had been a star first baseman in his own right for the Mexican National Team, and when the family lived in San Diego, he commuted daily across the border to Tijuana, Mexico, where he owned a successful air conditioning business. All three of the couple’s sons were born in the United States and all three would play baseball. The oldest, David Jr., was a shortstop who made it as far as college baseball but injured his arm and never played professionally. The middle son, Edgar (b. 1978), had a 15-year professional career himself (2000-15), including two seasons as Adrián’s teammate in San Diego.

The family went back and forth between the two countries. In 1983, they moved to Tijuana, where they spent the next seven years before moving to Bonita, California to set the boys up both educationally and competitively. From a 2009 Sports Illustrated feature by Lee Jenkins:

As a boy in Tijuana, he and his older brothers, Edgar and David Jr., would hit bottle caps with broomsticks in the streets. As teenagers in San Diego they would hit 90-mph cutters off the state-of-the-art pitching machine in their backyard. “They had the best of both worlds,” says their father… [who] understood that the ultimate modern ballplayer would blend American and Latino baseball cultures.

Adrian logged as many as 120 games a year, playing on manicured fields in San Diego’s South Bay during the week, then crossing the Otay border and playing on potholed fields near the Tijuana airport over the weekend. By 15 he was a regular in Tijuana’s famed “Sunday games,” hitting against former pro pitchers who still touched 90.

The family rooted for the Padres, and Adrián — a natural right-hander for everything except hitting and throwing — patterned his level line-drive swing after that of hometown hero Tony Gwynn. He wore Gwynn’s no. 19 in high school, and thrilled at the Padres’ 1998 World Series run along with his brothers.

Mexican professional teams sign prospects as teenagers and are under no obligation to let them go if a Major League baseball team becomes interested. They can take a massive percentage of a player’s signing bonus — 75% from players whose fathers weren’t professionals, according to Luis Cruz. Thus the González boys went to Eastlake High School and worked with personal trainers to increase their strength. On the heels of a strong senior season, Adrián was viewed as “a Mark Grace clone with a little more power… [perhaps] the best pure hitter in the draft” to quote Baseball America. He was positioned for a high draft spot. The Marlins, who had spent $7 million on top draft pick Josh Beckett the year before and who owned the first pick, chose him over another San Diego high schooler, catcher Scott Heard, because González was willing to accept their $3 million bonus offer before the draft. Meanwhile Heard, drafted with the 25th pick by the Rangers, never played above High-A. After going undrafted out of high school but playing at San Diego State, Edgar was picked in the 30th round in 2000 by the Rays.

Adrián began his career by hitting a combined .297/.404/.365 without a homer in 53 games with the Marlins’ Gulf Coast League affiliate and eight more at Low-A Utica. He did hit 17 homers in each of the next two seasons, at A-Level Kane County and Double-A Portland, climbing to 31st on Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list, but the combination of his all-fields approach and a torn tendon in his right wrist — which he played through in pain in 2002 — led to concerns about his power. After a slow start at Triple-A Albuquerque earned him a demotion to Double-A Carolina in 2003, he was traded to the Rangers in a four-player deal on July 11, with Ugueth Urbina the headliner in exchange. The Rangers’ coaches encouraged González to pull the ball to unlock his power, but he managed just five homers in 120 games that year, hitting a thin .270/.327/.365 and dropping to 52nd on BA’s list.

That same year, Mark Teixeira, the fifth pick of the 2001 draft, took over the Rangers’ first base job after briefly experimenting at third base and in the outfield corners. When he strained an oblique early in 2004, González got the call; he went 0-for-3 with a strikeout against the Mariners’ Joel Pineiro in his major league debut on April 18, but collected his first hit off the Angels’ Ramon Ortiz two days later. Though he clubbed a homer and two doubles off Seattle’s Ryan Franklin and Kevin Jarvis on April 25, he was demoted when Teixeira returned two days later. He went 2-for-13 in a September cup of coffee.

With Teixiera emerging as a star, González was stuck in up-and-down mode. He hit .227/.272/.407 with six homers in 162 plate appearances spread over three stints with the Rangers in 2005, mainly as a designated hitter. On January 6, 2006, he got the break he needed by being dealt to the Padres as part of a six-player deal, alongside pitcher Chris Young and outfielder Terrmel Sledge in exchange for pitchers Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka and one other prospect. Two months later, he represented Mexico in the World Baseball Classic for the first time, helping the team get as far as the second round.

While González wasn’t quite an instant success in San Diego, Padres coaches encouraged his opposite-field approach, particularly with Petco Park’s 411-foot distance to right-center. He doubled and singled off the Giants’ Jason Schmidt on Opening Day, and after a slow start finished at .304/.362/.500 (127 OPS+) with 24 homers and 3.0 WAR. The Padres won the NL West but lost to the Cardinals in the Division Series; González went 5-for-14 without an extra-base hit or RBI.

Mindful of the star potential of a Mexican American player in their market, the Padres signed González to a four-year, $9.5 million extension in the spring of 2007, his age-25 season. After a conversation with the Phillies’ Ryan Howard, he traded his 34-inch, 31-ounce bat for a 35-inch, 33-ounce bat both to produce more power and prevent overswinging. The move paid off with a very solid campaign (.282/.347/.502, 126 OPS+, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 2.5 WAR), but the team slipped to third place.

González kept improving, bopping 36 homers with a 140 OPS+ (both seventh in the NL) and 3.5 WAR in 2008. He made his first All-Star team and won his first Gold Glove, then repeated both honors while improving to 40 homers, a 162 OPS+ (.277/.407/.551) and 6.9 WAR in 2009. His home run total and WAR both ranked fifth in the NL, his OPS+ third, and his 119 walks first; he trimmed his strikeout rate from 20.3% to 16%, where it would remain rather steady for most of his career. Brother Edgar, who had passed through the hands of the Rays, Rangers, Nationals, Marlins, and Cardinals by this point, joined him on the Padres, hitting a combined .255/.312/.381 in 193 games in a utility role in 2008–09. The pair also played for Mexico in the 2009 WBC, during which Mexico got as far as the second round before losing to South Korea and Cuba.

In May 2010, González injured his right (non-throwing) shoulder while diving for a groundball. The injury forced him to adjust his bat selection and his swing, but he played 160 games nonetheless, making his third straight All-Star team on the strength of a .298/.393/.511 (152 OPS+) season with 31 homers and 4.4 WAR (his DRS took a plunge). The Padres missed the postseason by an eyelash, losing to the Giants on the final day of the season when a victory would have tied the two teams atop the NL West at 91-71 and set them even with the Braves for the Wild Card spot; alas, Team Entropy wouldn’t be born until the next year.

As it turns out, González would get an up-close view of the chaotic — and in his case, disappointing — end of the 2011 season as well. He underwent surgery to clean up his labrum at the end of the 2010 season, and the Padres picked up his $6.2 million option for ’11, but with his free agency looming, the team believed it couldn’t afford even a hometown star. General manager Jed Hoyer worked out a blockbuster with the Red Sox (his former employer) that allowed them to negotiate a seven-year, $154 million extension with González. First baseman Anthony Rizzo, righty Casey Kelly, outfielder Rey Fuentes, and a player to be named later (Eric Patterson) were sent to San Diego in exchange.

Swapping Petco Park for Fenway Park — a trade most hitters would make any day — González hit a sizzling .338/.410/.548 while playing every game despite continued soreness in his right shoulder. He made his fourth straight All-Star team, won his third Gold Glove, and led the AL in hits (213) while ranking second in batting average, third in on-base percentage and OPS+ (155), seventh in slugging percentage, and ninth in WAR (6.9). He even hit .318/.455/.523 in September, but the Red Sox went 7-19, coughing up a 1.5-game lead in the AL East and fumbling the Wild Card with a loss on the season’s final night.

The collapse cost Red Sox manager Terry Francona his job. The team turned to Bobby Valentine, which quickly became a disaster. En route to a 93-loss season and concerned about the extent to which big contracts hampered their flexibility — an ongoing problem during John Henry’s ownership of the team — GM Ben Cherington engineered a mega-deal with the Dodgers. González, Beckett, outfielder Carl Crawford, infielder Nick Punto and about $11 million in cash were sent to Los Angeles in exchange for an utterly forgettable batch of players (first baseman James Loney, infielder Ivan De Jesus, outfielder Jerry Sands, and pitchers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster). The Dodgers, who had recently been sold by miserly owner Frank McCourt to the much wealthier Guggenheim Partners group, took on $258 million in contract obligations in order to beef up their roster. The 30-year-old González’s production in the months both before and after the trade was subpar relative to his recent work (.299/.344/.463, 18 HR, 117 OPS+), though he did homer in his first plate appearance as a Dodger, a three-run shot off the Marlins’ Josh Johnson.

González rebounded to some extent while helping the new-look team begin its long run of NL West dominance. From 2013–15 he hit a combined .281/.342/.475 (129 OPS+) while averaging 26 homers, 102 RBI, and 4.2 WAR; his 12.7 WAR for the period ranked seventh among all first basemen, whereas from 2010–12, his 15.0 WAR ranked a robust fourth. He led the NL with 116 RBI in 2014, won his final Gold Glove that year, and made his final All-Star team in ’15.

In 2013, González captained Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, with Edgar also playing and David Jr. coaching. The team won just one of its three games, but it was a big one, with Adrián hitting a two-run homer off Team USA starter R.A. Dickey to lead Mexico to a 5-2 victory.

As for the major league postseason, González was productive as the Dodgers won three straight division titles from 2013–15, hitting a combined .288/.342/.534 with five homers. He homered at least once in every series in which the Dodgers played, with a big two-run blast off the Braves’ Kris Medlen in the 2013 Division Series opener, a two-homer performance in Game 5 of that year’s NLCS against the Cardinals, and a 6-for-19, 5-RBI showing in the ’15 Division Series against the Mets, but the Dodgers won only one of their four series in those years.

Age caught up to the 34-year-old González in 2016. Though he played 156 games — his 11th season in a row with at least that many — he slipped to .285/.349/.435 (111 OPS+) with 18 homers and 1.9 WAR. He did produce a couple of big moments in the postseason, with a two-run homer off the Nationals’ Joe Ross in a Division Series Game 4 win, and a solo homer off the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks in Game 2 of the NLCS, producing the game’s only run. He went just 1-for-14 thereafter, however, as the Dodgers were eliminated.

González opened the 2017 season as the Dodgers’ regular first baseman, but he went homerless before landing on the injured list with tennis elbow on May 5. Shortly before he was sidelined, the team recalled top prospect Cody Bellinger, who played some first base in his absence and then moved to left field when González returned. He finally hit his first homer of the season on May 26 against the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta, but on June 12 went back on the IL with a herniated lumbar disc. He missed over two months, and started just twice after September 5 while Bellinger clubbed 39 homers en route to NL Rookie of the Year honors. On September 26, González went 2-for-4 with a seventh-inning homer off the Padres’ Miguel Diaz in what turned out to be his final plate appearance for the team — a fitting bookend with his 2012 debut blast. The next day, the Dodgers announced that González had would be shut down due to further back problems. He was left off the roster and vacationed in Europe (with the team’s blessing) during their postseason run, though he returned in time to cheer his teammates on during the World Series, which they lost to the Astros.

González still had one year and $21.5 million remaining on his contract, but the handwriting was on the wall in Los Angeles. On December 16, 2017, he waived his no-trade clause and was dealt to the Braves along with pitchers Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, infielder Charlie Culberson, and cash in exchange for Matt Kemp, a deal that was mainly about moving around monetary obligations. Per his agreement, the Braves immediately designated González for assignment and released him two days later. He signed with the Mets in mid-January, and opened the season as their first baseman, going 2-for-3 with a double off the Cardinals’ Carlos Martinez on Opening Day. He held his own for a bit, but a 3-for-25 slump that coincided with an eight-game losing streak in late May and early June spelled the end. Hitting just .237/.299/.373, he was released on June 11.

González did make a brief, triumphant comeback in the Mexican League in 2021. At age 39, he joined Mariachis de Guadalajara and hit .340/.412/.531 with six homers in 43 games. He officially retired from MLB in February 2022 and joined the Dodgers’ SportsnetLA broadcast team.

González doesn’t have Hall of Fame numbers, though as far as JAWS goes, he’s tied with Don Mattingly for 39th among first basemen, 0.4 points ahead of Gil Hodges, and 1.1 points ahead of Grace, to whom he was compared as a draft prospect; he’s also ahead of Rizzo (35.9) and another popular Dodgers first baseman, Steve Garvey (33.4). As number one picks go, he’s among the most successful. He ranks sixth in career WAR among the 58 top picks, though a pair of active players are poised to pass him in 2024.

No. 1 Draft Picks with Highest Career WAR
Player Draft Team Year Pos WAR
Alex Rodriguez Mariners 1993 SS 117.5
Chipper Jones* Braves 1990 SS 85.3
Ken Griffey Jr.* Mariners 1987 OF 83.8
Joe Mauer Twins 2001 C 55.2
Bryce Harper+ Nationals 2010 OF 46.2
Adrián González Marlins 2000 1B 43.5
Darryl Strawberry Mets 1980 OF 42.2
Gerrit Cole+ Pirates 2011 RHP 41.2
Carlos Correa+ Astros 2012 SS 40.9
David Price Devil Rays 2007 LHP 40.3
Harold Baines* White Sox 1977 1B 38.8
B.J. Surhoff Brewers 1985 SS 34.4
Rick Monday Athletics 1965 OF 33.1
Stephen Strasburg Nationals 2009 RHP 32.3
Justin Upton Diamondbacks 2005 SS 32.3
Darin Erstad Angels 1995 OF 32.3
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
* = Hall of Famer. + = active.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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3 months ago

Hall of Very Good.

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
3 months ago
Reply to  catmanwayne

Yup. A fairly easy no for the Hall, but also an often-underrated guy whose talent doesn’t get talked about enough in retrospect. As a pure hitter, he was always fun to watch — I liked how much you could see him thinking at the plate, working out the way they were sequencing him in real time. Even when he lost bat speed toward the end of his career and the outcome was more likely to be a single, I often felt bad for the pitcher and catcher losing the chess match.

3 months ago

I could not have summed him up better as a hitter. Absolute pure hitter. Gonzalez hitting a double to left center was first class.

3 months ago

Agreed, as a Giants fan, I’ll definitely remember him as a feared and formidable opponent in his Padres and (early) Dodgers years. Great career, well worth the nice writeup here.