ORLANDO, Fla. — Thousands of baseball executives and media types have descended on Disney World for the annual baseball winter meetings.

They are not here to ride Space Mountain, but the week in central Florida began with a roller-coaster ride for Red Sox fans who were waiting to see if Adrian Gonzalez would be coming to Boston.

In the end, Theo Epstein got the slugging first basemen he has been coveting for more than a year.

But it wasn’t easy. The deal appeared to be off Sunday afternoon when the Sox and Gonzalez couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract extension.

The Padres had set a 2 p.m. deadline for the extension to get done. When the deadline came and went, many Sox fans went into full panic mode. How could such a player be gone before he ever got here?

“I was never all that worried about the deal not happening,” said Padres GM Jed Hoyer after the trade was announced Monday. “The Red Sox probably were. These deals always fall apart before coming together.”

Ultimately, the Sox made the deal without a contract extension in place, believing they could get it done once he was already on board. And, sure enough, reports began to surface that the framework of a principal was lined up.

It’s unlikely the Sox will announce an extension until after the season begins, since it would save the team money in baseball’s luxury tax.

Bringing Gonzalez to Boston gives the Red Sox a 28-year-old, left-handed hitting first baseman who can anchor the lineup for years to come. It is the biggest impact bat the team has added since Dan Duquette brought Manny Ramirez to town in 2000.

Hoyer said Gonzalez is “tailor made” for Boston, and that his inside-out swing will “put a lot of dents” in Fenway Park. That’s exactly what the Sox are hoping.

Epstein was able to bring Gonzalez to town without giving up anyone on the current big-league roster. While Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Raymond Fuentes are all top prospects, none was expected to help the club in 2010.

Gonzalez will. Just like that, the Sox are back in contention with one of the strongest lineups in baseball.

He’s also a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman. Kevin Youkilis will return to third base, and spend the rest of the off-season working on the transition. With the addition of Gonzalez, and the return of Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Sox feel they will be able to score plenty of runs next summer.

There is still plenty of work to be done. Getting the Gonzalez deal consummated before the meetings began allows the Sox to concentrate on bullpen help and, perhaps, a right-handed bat to augment the lineup.

No matter what else happens here at Disney, the Sox got the week off to a magical start. And they didn’t have to give up a kingdom to bring the big hitter to town.


Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.