For the second winter in a row, the Twins have taken advantage of a depressed free agent market to load up on players via short-term contracts, even doing so after camps opened. On Friday, they made their latest move, adding switch-hitting superutilityman Marwin Gonzalez — who ranked 15th on our Top 50 Free Agents List last November — to the fold on a two-year, $21 million deal.
Originally signed by the Cubs out of Venezuela in 2005, Gonzalez has spent the entirety of his seven-year major league career with the Astros, who acquired him from the Red Sox in a Rule 5-pick-and-trade in December 2011. Last year, he wasn’t quite as super with the bat as he was in 2017 (.303/.377/.530, 144 wRC+), but he overcame a slow start to hit a respectable .247/.324/.409 in 552 PA, with 16 homers and a 104 wRC+; it’s the fourth time in five years he’s had a wRC+ above 100. He’s been above-average from both sides of the plate in each of the past two seasons, and has a negligible platoon split for his career (104 wRC+ vs righties, 101 vs. lefties).
The versatility of “Swiss G” — that’s agent Scott Boras’ name for his client, and I swear on a stack of baseball cards that I won’t use it unironically ever again — extends to the field, of course. Last year, Gonzalez made 65 starts in left field, 29 at shortstop, 21 at first base, 19 at second base, and two at third base; he also made late-inning appearances at the other two outfield positions, and probably manned Minute Maid Park concession stands on both the first and third base sides when he wasn’t playing. The story was similar in 2017 (38 starts in left, 33 at short, 20 at first, 15 at third, and 14 at second). He can spot start to give a regular a day off, hold down a position for weeks at a time during another player’s IL stint (as he did last year for Yulieski Gurriel, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa), or serve as a primary option when other plans fall through (as the Astros’ left field machinations did last year). Defensively, he’s been a plus in left, and more or less average everywhere else except shortstop, where the metrics suggest he’s stretched (-6.5 UZR and -8 DRS over the past two seasons), though as we’re dealing with small slices of playing time, sample-size caveats do apply.
With 4.0 WAR in 2017 but a more modest 1.6 last year, and a total of just 3.1 from 2014-2016, Gonzalez was never in the same class as Ben Zobrist in terms of delivering value, though Boras reportedly sought a Zobristian four-year, $60 million deal for his client. Even if that was never going to happen, Gonzalez — like so many other free agents — was expected to net a larger contract than he landed, because frankly, very few teams couldn’t use a player like him. For our Top 50 roundup, Kiley McDaniel projected him to receive three years and $39 million, while even suggesting that a four-year deal was possible; our crowdsource median came in at three years and $30 million. But with deals like these already inked…
|Player||Pos||Prev WAR||Proj WAR||Age||Med Years||Med Total||New Tm||Yrs||$|
…a three-year contract for that kind of scratch wasn’t happening, particularly at this stage of the winter. Against that backdrop, it’s worth noting that Gonzalez, whose contract projection was in the ballpark of those of Moustakas and Dozier, outdid them both in AAV and total dollars. He wouldn’t have been a bad choice for either of those jobs, and personally, I’d much rather have him in a multi-position role than LeMahieu, a fantastic fielder at second base but less of a hitter, and with less experience juggling gloves.
Gonzalez’s signing is of a piece with what the Twins have been doing lately. Last winter, fresh off 85 wins and an AL Wild Card appearance, the team signed Logan Morrison to a one-year, $6.5 million deal on February 28, and Lance Lynn to a one-year, $12 million deal on March 12, those after previously adding Zach Duke (one year, $2.15 million), Michael Pineda (two years, $10 million), Addison Reed (two years, $16.75 million), and Fernando Rodney (one year, $4.5 million) in December and January. Morrison struggled and then needed hip surgery, Lynn scuffled as well, and when it was clear that it wasn’t the Twins’ year to win, they flipped Lynn along with Duke on July 30, part of a flurry of pre-deadline deals that also saw them trade Dozier away to the Dodgers, Eduardo Escobar to the Diamondbacks, and Ryan Pressley to the Astros, before sending Rodney to the A’s in August.
Despite so much going wrong — including dreadful, injury-marred seasons from Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and the since-departed Ervin Santana (who agreed to a minor-league deal with the White Sox on Friday) — the Twins finished 78-84. They’ve been busy handing out one-year deals this winter, adding Nelson Cruz ($14.3 million), Schoop, Martin Perez ($3.5 million), Blake Parker ($1.8 million), and Ronald Torreyes ($800,000), not to mention minor league deals for the likes of Lucas Duda and Tim Collins, plus C.J. Cron via a waiver claim.
Gonzalez is likely to reprise his multiposition role in Minnesota, filling in here and there while insuring against the possibility that things go south again for Schoop or Sano, whose 2018 performances offer less hope than their relatively sunny projections for two-plus wins apiece. Schoop, who split his season between the Orioles and Brewers, dipped from a 122 wRC+ and 3.8 WAR in 2017 to 80 and 0.5 last year, while Sano, whose 2017 ended with surgery to implant a titanium rod in his left leg to help it heal from a stress reaction, hit for an 82 wRC+ with 0.0 WAR. The bummer of it is that Gonzalez could squeeze the wonderful Willians Astudillo off the 25-man roster, though it might be Ehire Adrianza, who can play shortstop but can’t catch, who winds up drawing the short straw.
Given his versatility and his relatively modest salary, Gonzalez could have helped a whole lot of teams. He figures to be well worth his money for the Twins.
Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.