Oh, just great!  This was supposed to be the year in which things changed in the AL East.  The Red Sox and Yankees were supposed to take a step back, the Rays were supposed to suffer from a loss of free agents from their roster, and young teams like the Blue Jays and Orioles were supposed to take a step forward.

Unfortunately, the Boston Red Sox have laughed off the idea of equality and gone after San Diego Padres’ first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, at 28 years old, is already an elite player.  Being in the last year of his contract, and set to enter free agency for the first time, he’ll make a measly $5.5 million this season, before going on the open market and demanding a salary that the Padres simply wouldn’t be able to afford.

To make sure that the Red Sox could afford it, before any trade is completed, Major League Baseball has granted Boston permission to negotiate with Gonzalez on an extension.  After receiving this special dispensation, the Red Sox immediately flew Gonzalez into Boston for negotiations and a physical.

Why so hasty?

Quite simply, Adrian Gonzalez is an MVP calibre player who according to Baseball Reference, at ages 26-28 had career numbers most similar to Justin Morneau’s.  Morneau signed a six year extension to his contract in 2008 worth $80 million.  However, a more accurate template for this extension is likely Mark Teixeira’s eight years for $180 million signed ahead of the 2009 season.

Gonzalez has hit 30 or more home runs for four straight years.  Perhaps the scariest thing is that he’s shown that type of consistent power in pitcher-friendly Petco Park.  His inside-out swing is practically made for Fenway Park.

Gonzalez is offering enormous value for the coming season with his low salary, and the Red Sox can afford the expected bump for next year and after with J.D. Drew, Jonathan Paplebon and Mike Cameron all coming off the books at the end of this coming season.

For the Padres, they’re trading Gonzalez at the absolute height of his value.  It’s likely a difficult decision considering how close they were to making the playoffs this past season, but assuming that the haul they get for him is comprised of the best of the Red Sox farm system, they’re in a very good position for the future.

The names of right hander Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Ryan Kalish are assumed to be involved, but perennial prospect Lars Anderson, who struggled at the beginning of his first season at Triple A, could be an interesting acquisition as well.

Perhaps the funniest part of all this is that several Red Sox fans were suggesting that the team’s owner, John Henry, had spent too much money on Liverpool FC to be able to afford the big name free agents this offseason. The acquisition of Gonzalez is arguably better than any of Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth.

It will be very interesting to see how the rest of the American League East reacts.  The move could inspire the Yankees to step up their pursuit of Cliff Lee, much like the arms race between New York and Boston of a few years ago, while the Rays shake their head over the odds getting stacked against them.

The Blue Jays are also in a curious situation.  Prior to Gonzalez getting dealt, many had believed that Toronto could surpass Tampa Bay and Boston in the standings this year.  Those prospects just got a whole lot more difficult.  General manager Alex Anthopoulos has been preaching the need to build a consistent winner, but will he stray from the course he’s set, just to keep up with the Joneses?  I doubt it.

UPDATE: Gordon Edes is tweeting that the Padres get right-hander Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Reymond Fuentes in return for Gonzalez.  That’s a haul for San Diego, but hardly the Red Sox entire system.  Boston keeps Jose Iglesias and Ryan Kalish, and will get two picks for Victor Martinez, likely two more for Adrian Beltre and another pick for their shrewd pickup of Felipe Lopez.