But not as surprised after looking at Gonzalez's road numbers. I guess the only things that give me pause are his age -- we probably saw his best two seasons ago -- and his position. But yes, he might tear it up this year.
Is Gonzalez really the best player in the American League, though?
At first glance, it seems awfully unlikely.
According to Wins Above Replacement (via FanGraphs), the three best players in the American League over the last three seasons were Evan Longoria (20), Joe Mauer (19) and Kevin Youkilis (15.7) ... with Youkilis just ahead of Gonzalez (15.6).
Are there other viable candidates? Carl Crawford's not far behind Gonzalez, and Pedroia would be ahead of Gonzalez if he hadn't missed half the season last year.*
* And yes, the Red Sox might currently boast four of the 10 best players in the league.
I think I have to go with Longoria, or Mauer, or Pedroia. They're all younger than Gonzalez, and they've all compiled higher WAR (or in Pedroia's case, would have if healthy). And Gonzalez's phenomenal road numbers? Well, WAR is supposed to take those into account. But the methodology in these things is necessarily crude, and it's possible that Gonzalez was particularly affected by the Padres' home ballpark.
There's no easy answer here. We're pretty good at placing values on what players have done, but when placing precise values on what they're going to do, we're just making educated guesses. Granted, we've gotten pretty good at that. But distinguishing between a number of players who have been roughly as valuable over the last three seasons, and are roughly the same age?
Hey, you decide. And you've got your choice. The easy way is to vote in the poll. The slightly less easy way is to write your very own FanPost and let the Court of Public Opinion weigh in.