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Rockies trade rumors: Carlos Gonzalez could fit on multiple teams

The oft-injured slugger has two years left on his deal.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

There are three types of teams in the NL West. Subdividing five teams into three categories is, well, silly, but humor me. There are the competitors - the Dodgers, Giants, and Diamondbacks, who are all jockeying for position at the top. There is the rebuilder - the Padres. Then there are the Rockies, who traded away Troy Tulowitzki and received a veteran in return and signed another veteran in Mark Reynolds. The Rockies still have some interesting players, Nolan Arenado being the most interesting, but it does not seem like their window of contention is open. Because of that, there are plenty of trade rumors about their other veterans, including Carlos Gonzalez.

Back in June, I wrote an article about Joe Mauer's and Gonzalez's decline. At the time, both had negative fWAR. Mauer, unfortunately, did not recover. Gonzalez, on the other hand, ended up posting 2.4 fWAR by the end of the season; he made up a lot of ground from June onward.

In that article, I wrote that Gonzalez's power was the primary reason for his decline. That power decline did not last very long. After running .147 and .082 ISO values in April and May, respectively, his lowest ISO by month for the rest of the season was .269. His lowest wRC+ was 111, and his second-half wRC+ of 142 handily beat his first-half wRC+ of 90. CarGo was, apparently, back. At least partially - plenty of players have had great half-seasons. What I said back in June still seems a bit, you know, wrong.

Without delving deeply into his turnaround, what this means now is that CarGo has regained some trade value. His performance rebounded, and he showed a little durability; he played in 153 games, the most he has ever played in a season. The 30-year-old right fielder is under contract for two more seasons at $17 million and $20 million.

At current prices on the free agent market, a win is worth around $8 million or so. At $37 million total owed over the next two seasons, CarGo would need to be worth around 4.5 fWAR (factoring in a bit of inflation next year). That may be tough to reach given his injury history and general performance decline. Steamer has CarGo projected for 1.7 fWAR next year, and factoring in an aging curve leaves around 1.2 fWAR in 2017. I'm comfortable saying that 3 fWAR is a decent median estimate for CarGo's production over the next two years.

There is plenty of variance here. If CarGo's rebound is for real and/or he stays healthy, he could satisfy the value expected by his contract and even provide surplus value. However, if he gets injured, that's a lot of lost money.

Because of the risk, in order to make a trade happen the Rockies will likely have to throw in some money. Let's start with this thought - the gap between his projected value, 3 fWAR, and the necessary value to satisfy his contract, 4.5 fWAR, is 1.5 fWAR. That corresponds to something like $12 million. Is that a starting point for the salary that the Rockies could pick up? Or is that more of a "maximum value", as in if the Rockies pick up $12 million, that will get them the best return (in realistic scenarios, of course. If the Rockies picked up all of his salary, they could get quite the haul. That's not happening.)?

If the Rockies pick up $12 million, then the team receiving CarGo would be on the hook for $24 million over two years. On the free agent market now, the most comparable players might be Dexter Fowler and Austin Jackson. The FanGraphs crowdsourcing project pegged Fowler for a four-year, $56 million contract and Jackson for a three-year, $30 million contract. Fowler has the qualifying offer cost attached to him as well. When compared to these contracts, two years and $24 million for CarGo looks really good.

Because of the other options available, the price for CarGo is rather high. The Royals and Nationals are rumored to have interest. The fit is there.

With the Royals, the likely departure of Alex Gordon and the certain departure of Alex Rios leaves two holes in the outfield. Trading for CarGo would fill one of those holes, likely right field. In left field, they could run with a platoon of Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando, speedy defenders whose bats may be just enough given their other abilities. The Royals will almost certainly find 2 years and $24-$37 million more palatable than five years and upward of $80 million for Alex Gordon. However, KC is a bit thin on the farm due to the trades for Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist on the way to their championship run. Despite the low salary, the Royals are unlikely to part with more prospects.

On the Nationals' side of things, Bryce Harper obviously takes up one spot. Jayson Werth and his big contract take up another. Denard Span was supposed to be the third outfielder, but spent a significant portion of the season injured. Michael Taylor filled in at center but did not do a great job. Given Werth's presence and Gonzalez's age and injury history, Harper would likely have to move to center field.

According to Cot's Contracts, the Nationals' payroll sits at about $96 million, but they have some expensive arbitration payouts coming. Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, and Wilson Ramos are in their later arbitration years, and Anthony Rendon is coming up. They had an Opening Day payroll of $162 million last year, but many of those players entered free agency (Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, etc). If the Nationals don't mind an Opening Day payroll near last year's, they can afford all of CarGo's salary. They wouldn't have to give up as much to get him in that case.

The risk here is health. Denard Span and Jayson Werth spent time injured last year, so the Nationals had to throw out Michael Taylor, Clint Robinson, and others to try to fill the void. Carlos Gonzalez, as mentioned before, is injury prone, so the Nationals would be in a similar situation. They might look for more durability than a player on the wrong side of 30 who spends a decent amount of time on the DL.

Gonzalez is under contract at relatively reasonable prices (or at least number of years), but the team acquiring him would be taking a risk. Though on a rate basis his performance will be pretty good, the projections work in his injury risk with 122 games and 532 plate appearances. His ceiling is high, but his floor is very low.

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Kevin Ruprecht is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royals Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinRuprecht.