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Gio Gonzalez - the forgotten free agent

The overlooked Gonzalez makes a lot of sense, at a reasonable price, for a playoff contender.

MLB: NLCS-Milwaukee Brewers at Los Angeles Dodgers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Gio Gonzalez has flown under the radar this offseason, but is a quality arm that a contender in need of pitching should take a long look at signing.

Gonzalez is coming off a 2018 where he pitched for two teams, including one that ended up in a fierce battled for a divisional title. He began the year in Washington but was traded to Milwaukee, where he was dropped into the middle of a playoff race. He struggled with Washington last year, posting a 4.57 ERA and 1.531 WHIP, but had a nice run with Milwaukee, where those numbers improved considerably (albeit, in a much smaller sample size) to 2.13 and 0.947, respectively.

MLB Trade Rumors has Gonzalez as the 27th best available free agent in their top 50 list for the 2019 off season, projecting him to sign a two-year contract at $24 million. In the same range as Gonzalez, MLBTR predicted Anibal Sanchez to sign for two years and $22 million.

Sanchez signed with the Nationals, and while he did get two years, he signed for $19 million —$3 million less than predicted. To give an idea of how some other starters have fared in free agency, I’ll include a list of five other starters who have signed similar length deals.

Contracts of pitchers comparable in value to Gonzalez

Player Years Amount AAV Current Age
Player Years Amount AAV Current Age
J.A. Happ 2 $34M $17M 36
Lance Lynn 3 $30M $10M 31
Charlie Morton 2 $30M $15M 35
Anibal Sanchez 2 $19M $9.5M 34
Hyun-jin Ryu 1 $17.9M $17.9M 31
Gio Gonzalez ?? ?? ?? 33

So how does Gonzalez stack up to these other five? Here is a comparison by FIP.

A bit of a mess to look at, but you get the point. These guys have all been roughly the same, compared by FIP, over the last few seasons. They all hover right around average. You can also see, looking at the age of this group, all are on the wrong side of 30. Two are younger than Gio, so let’s throw them out and compare him to the older guys.

Since 2010, Gonzalez has started 283 games for a total of 1,681 1/3 innings. For those nine years, he’s averaged 31 starts and 187 innings, pitching to a 3.51 FIP and an ERA+ of 117. Here’s how the pitchers in our group, age 33+, compare.

Performance comparison

Player Average Starts Average IP FIP ERA+
Player Average Starts Average IP FIP ERA+
Gio Gonzalez 31 187 3.51 117
Anibal Sanchez 26 161 3.70 102
J.A. Happ 26 148 4.04 102
Charlie Morton 20 115 3.85 95

Gonzalez has been the most reliable source of innings and has considerably better marks in both ERA+ and FIP. Averaging the AAV of each of the already-signed free agents above gives us $13.8 million per year. Withi this data in mind, the MLBTR prediction of two years at a $12 million AAV seems pretty on the mark.

The question now is, who needs a pitcher like Gonzalez?

Looking at teams who were in contention last season, and probably will be again in 2019, I think the best fit is for Gonzalez to go back to the team that first called him up to the big leagues, the Oakland Athletics.

In 2018, Oakland had just three pitchers top 100 innings, with Sean Manaea leading the way at 160 2/3. Mike Fiers, whom Oakland acquired at the deadline last year, did throw for a total of 172 innings between Detroit and Oakland.

The A’s current projected rotation, according to MLB.com, includes only four pitchers—Manaea, Andrew Triggs, Fiers, and Paul Blackburn. That foursome combined for 401 2/3 innings last year. Triggs and Blackburn, though, managed a total of just 69 innings between the two of them.

An added benefit for Gonzalez is that Oakland has one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in all of baseball. It’s a much improved environment from both Nationals Park and Miller Park, the two stadiums Gio called home in 2018.

Adding a pitcher like Gonzalez is a perfect fit for Oakland, adding stability to the rotation by giving them a trio of workhorse starters to lead the A’s into the playoff hunt again in 2019. If they want to make another playoff run, those innings are going to have to come from someone.