Carlos Gonzalez and the Value of Options

Back on the other side of the weekend, word got out the Rockies were re-signing Carlos Gonzalez for a year and $8 million. In one way, it’s great news, because now Gonzalez has a job. Furthermore, Nolan Arenado said bringing Gonzalez back “would be the greatest thing ever.” So, from the Rockies’ standpoint, and also from Gonzalez’s standpoint, it’s terrific to preserve some familiarity. In another way, this is disappointing news. It’s disappointing to Gonzalez, because a year ago, he turned down what would’ve been a lucrative three-year extension. And it’s disappointing to some fans, who now wonder what to make of the Rockies’ outfield picture. There are some younger players who are knocking on the door.

When I chatted last Friday, I received several inquiries related to Raimel Tapia, David Dahl, and Mike Tauchman. There’s an argument to be made that all of them are major-league ready. Gonzalez now gets in the way, because he’s not re-signing to platoon, or to sit on the bench. Gonzalez is going to play, and that playing time comes at the expense of other Rockies. What I would say is not to worry too much. Gonzalez now occupies a spot in a nine-man lineup, but I see this more as helping the depth. There’s value in having moving pieces.

One of the more difficult things for any team to do is to balance shorter-term needs against longer-term development. If a team is trying to stay in the race, it might make decisions that work somewhat against potential long-term contributors. To get more specific, the Rockies just made the playoffs last season — briefly — and they should be in the hunt again in 2018. Probably not for the division, but there are two wild-card spots, and those are wide open. Eight months from now, Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu will be free agents. The Rockies want to win 85-90 games, and they can’t just think about maximizing young-player reps.

Gonzalez, admittedly, is a bounceback candidate. He’s not an obvious star anymore. He’s coming off his worst career full season, and it happened at 31, which is anything but promising. The optimistic spin is that Gonzalez traced his problems to a lack of rest, which he dealt with in later August. From that point forward, he hit as well as ever, benefiting from a greater amount of sleep. A counterargument would be that the first four and a half months still happened, and Gonzalez had apparently had insomnia before. It didn’t tank his game. From the sounds of things, it got worse because of the pressure he was putting on himself to perform. Gonzalez could slump again. The sleep explanation might be too convenient.

It would be great, though, if it were true. We all know how much better seven hours feel than four. And a number of baseball teams are encouraging better sleep habits, suggesting they believe in the benefits. I don’t think the general benefit of sleep is under dispute. And even if you believe Gonzalez’s down season was about something else, he did finish strong — he did finish looking like his old self — and he was one of just nine hitters to at least twice reach 115 miles per hour on a batted ball. Gonzalez showed he can still hit the ball hard. On a seven-figure, one-year deal, Gonzalez comes with little risk. This is the contract he was going to get.

Gonzalez will presumably start in right field. He’s neither a good nor a bad defender. He doesn’t hit lefties. Still, he’ll be the regular. In center, Blackmon should play every day. It gets interesting in left, and at first base. This is where there’s still room. Mostly, this is why I don’t think anyone’s blocked.

You might see Ian Desmond in left, and Ryan McMahon at first. You might see Gerardo Parra and McMahon. You might see Parra and Desmond. Parra and Desmond are under expensive contract; McMahon is a prospect with limited service. Maybe that means McMahon doesn’t get a fair shot. But ultimately, the Rockies do want to win as often as possible this season, and that means, in the bigger picture, performance should drive playing time. Think about the performances here.

McMahon is completely unproven. And to bring back up the prospects from earlier, Tapia, Dahl, and Tauchman have short records. In Dahl’s case, he’s coming off what was more or less a lost season. All of these players still might be able to help right away. Desmond just posted a wRC+ of 69. He’s 32 years old. Parra, over the past four seasons, has been almost exactly replacement-level, and he’s coming off a wRC+ of 90. He’s nearly 31 years old.

Maybe, because of the salary commitments, Desmond and Parra start with a leg up. But they won’t get much of a leash, not anymore, not now that they are where they are, with younger players close. I can’t see Desmond being flat-out dropped, given the length of his deal, but the Rockies won’t play him much if he doesn’t rebound. And Parra could be DFA’d with little hesitation, since he’s in his own deal’s last year. Before Gonzalez re-signed, the Rockies might’ve been in position to start all of McMahon, Desmond, and Parra. Gonzalez takes away one position, but there’s so much uncertainty with so many players, and by May or June, performance should allow the players to sort themselves out.

Having Gonzalez relieves some of the pressure on the outfield. At first base, the Rockies now need one of McMahon or Desmond to hit. In left field, the Rockies now need one of Parra, Tapia, Dahl, or Tauchman to hit. Or to play well, anyway, including defense. And you can add Desmond to that group, too, if McMahon holds his own as a rookie. Almost no matter who’s playing in left field, that guy won’t play every day, because he’ll need rest. Over in right, Gonzalez will also get days off, probably against tougher lefties. There are going to be at-bats even in the outfield to go around, and I haven’t even mentioned the possibility that Gonzalez again comes out struggling. That would free up only more playing time, even though I acknowledge it could be difficult for the Rockies and Gonzalez to have that conversation, given what he’s meant to the team over the years. Things can get tricky when established franchise stars underperform. The Rockies will cross that bridge if they get there.

Mostly, though, this should help more than it hurts. As the younger players are concerned, Parra probably won’t be much of a playing-time obstacle. Both Desmond and Gonzalez need to prove they’re better than they were last summer. Dahl could probably stand to open in Triple-A, given how his 2017 went. You might even say the same of Tapia, given his big-league 72 wRC+. Tauchman can float around, and since he’s 27, he’s already not on the traditional path. Perhaps, for the season’s first few weeks, the Rockies have one regular lineup. But it doesn’t have to be the same lineup they use in July, or September. Talent rises, and with Gonzalez, the Rockies have increased their talent level. Any and all obstacles here are surmountable.

After the year, Blackmon will be a free agent. Gonzalez will be a free agent. Parra will be a free agent. The Rockies are going to have more than enough outfield playing time to go around. They should have options to pick up that playing time then. The only way this particular season ends up too crowded is if too many players are good, or too many players are bad. Otherwise, the Rockies will simply sort themselves out, in whichever ways make the most sense.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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6 years ago

I think the bigger criticism of this deal is that in the year of some nice FA bargains, the rockies overpaid at the position they already had redundancy at and likely won’t improve the spots they could have for the same amount of money.

Even if they really wanted an OF bat, they could have got Dyson at the same price but for an extra year!

6 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

True, although it’s not like he signed 10 minutes into free agency.

This deal would make sense if it was for $2m + $4m in incentives. $8m guaranteed, who a player is likely to be at best a 1.5WAR player, is just crazy in light of the other recent steals (moose, lucroy, etc)

6 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

Yeah I still don’t understand that signing. It just goes to show you that, even with the number of defensive plays in steady decline, speed and defense are still underrated on the free agent market.

6 years ago
Reply to  HamelinROY

I think I’m in the minority on this, but I really think the Rockies have one of the worst FOs right now. It’s just hard to rip on them a year after they exceeded expectations. I don’t like this move, but then again, I don’t like many of the moves they have made.

6 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Yeah they’re not good at free agency and long-term roster building. Bridich and friends have done some decent trades, but never anything truly great.

6 years ago
Reply to  fredsbank

That actually sums it up pretty well: Decent at trades, bad at free agency. The Tulo trade was good, the McGee trade turned out well, but they really like to overpay in free agency. And unfortunately, most of their action has come in free agency.