The Red Sox may finally be on the verge of acquiring the bat that is the apple of GM Theo Epstein’s eye…and that bat doesn’t belong to either of the free agent outfielders (Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth) Epstein has been visiting this week.

Published reports indicate that Epstein may be closing in on a deal with former assistant Jed Hoyer, the general manager of the San Diego Padres, that will bring 1B Adrian Gonzalez to Boston. Those reports say the Red Sox will send a bevy of minor league prospects westward in the deal, to the exclusion of anyone on the Red Sox major league roster, but it says here that such reports are wishful thinking…I cannot imagine Hoyer trading A-Gon without getting back at least one young, INEXPENSIVE big-league player in return.

I will be writing a post in the next day or so that lays out the reasons Daniel Bard WILL NOT be included in the deal—and he should NOT be included in the deal—but it seems logical that any of the other Red Sox young hopefuls could be included in the deal. While Epstein & Company will try to keep SS Jose Iglesias from being included, it’s a near-certainty that Hoyer would want the blue-chipper as part of his haul from the Red Sox. If Epstein can hang on to Iglesias, he’ll be the front-runner for the 2011 MLB Executive of the Year.

My prediction: Jacoby Ellsbury, Casey Kelly, Stolmy Pimental and Anthony Rizzo will go to the Padres in the deal.

Of course, prior to finalizing the deal and sending four quality players/prospects to the Padres, the Red Sox will insist on talking with Gonzalez about a contract extension—something in the vicinity of six-years and $120 million. The Sox will also want to take a look at the medical reports on Gonzalez to assure the slugger’s shoulder is recuperating properly after offseason surgery.

I then expect the Sox will spend another $20 million a year (for five or six years) on Carl Crawford, replacing Ellsbury’s speed atop the lineup with the former Tampa Bay outfielder.

Epstein has coveted Gonzalez, 28, since the middle of the 2009 season, and made an aborted attempt to acquire him at the 2009 trade deadline last winter, and then again at the 2010 trade deadline…all to no avail. But it would appear that he has the talent and the determination to make it happen this time around.

Hoyer will need to extract a sizeable haul from the Red Sox in order to justify the trade to Padres fans, just a few months after the team unexpectedly finished just one game out of the postseason. Gonzalez is the team’s most popular player, a native son with a great deal of crossover appeal with the team’s Mexican-American market. But he is due to make in excess of $6 million in 2011, and the Padres are working under significant financial constraints. They’ve admitted they can’t sign him and have come to the realization they need to trade him…and Hoyer knows he will never get more in return for A-Gon than he can right now.

Hoyer certainly knows Gonzalez is worth far more than two draft picks (which would be what the Padres would receive if he were to play out his contract and become a free agent next offseason). Add to that the fact that Hoyer would be handcuffed from trading the first baseman at the 2011 trade deadline if his team were in contention, as they were last season, and all signs point to a deal getting done this offseason…likely at the winter meetings next week.

By trading Gonzalez now, Hoyer will be able to fill the holes the club has entering the season while acquiring low-cost players that would remain under the team’s control for up to six years…and in today’s baseball climate those considerations are tantamount in a place like San Diego.

Hoyer and his assistant, Jason McLeod, who served as Boston’s scouting director until joining Hoyer in San Diego, are intimately familiar with the Red Sox farm system. They will likely insist on pitcher Casey Kelly and first baseman Anthony Rizzo in any deal. Additionally, they will want at least two more players/prospects…and with both Kelly and Rizzo at least another year away from being major-league ready, Hoyer will want to have someone to plug into the lineup to show an immediate return on the trade—that player will likely be Ellsbury. Lastly, pitching being what it is, they will want a pitcher in the deal…and with Pimental rising up the prospect rankings it seems likely he’ll be the one to go.

The cost won’t be cheap for the Red Sox, but they have a plethora of talent in the farm system right now. They will also have as many as seven picks among the first 50 or so picks at next June’s draft so they will have an opportunity to immediately replenish whatever they send west.

The timing is right on both sides of the table to get a deal done…it’s time to strike while the iron is hot!

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