Twins Add Wins with Marwin Gonzalez

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…

Mid-Priced Free Agent Infielders
Player Pos Prev WAR Proj WAR Age Med Years Med Total New Tm Yrs $
DJ LeMahieu 2B 2.0 2.1 30 3 $36.0M Yankees 2 $24.0M
Daniel Murphy 2B 0.8 1.9 33 2 $28.0M Rockies 2 $24.0M
Josh Donaldson 3B 1.3 4.1 33 1 $23.0M Braves 1 $23.0M
Jed Lowrie 2B 4.9 2.1 34 2 $24.0M Mets 2 $20.0M
Mike Moustakas 3B 2.4 2.5 30 3 $36.0M Brewers 1 $10.0M
Brian Dozier 2B 0.8 2.2 31 3 $36.0M Nationals 1 $9.0M
Jonathan Schoop 2B 0.5 2.2 27 Twins 1 $7.5M
Med(ian) Years and Med(ian) Total contract values from our crowdsource balloting (https://blogs.fangraphs.com/contract-crowdsourcing-2018-19-ballot-1-of-7/).

…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.

We hoped you liked reading Twins Add Wins with Marwin Gonzalez by Jay Jaffe!

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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.

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sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

So I appreciate that he got two years instead of one, but for this sort of a contract, wouldn’t you expect a team like the Brewers to find a guy who has actually played second base in the past instead of converting Mike Moustakas? Or, for the Yankees, to find a guy who has experience playing lots of different positions instead of going for DJLM?

Of course, all these things could have been said about Jed Lowrie, too. And it’s also possible that for whatever reason, Marwin wasn’t ready to accept an offer like this last week, much less last month.

tb.25
Member
tb.25

Gifted the advanced defensive developments in recent years (read: shifts) and the drop in balls-in-play, players like DJLM and Moose are more than passable at unknown positions given they can hit the ball well.

Gonzalez can hit too, but has less of a track record, may have not wanted to sign a deal like this when the other players signed (quicker signing gives front offices peace), or the front offices have seen something in the others that they believe they can easily fix (Muncy, Turner, Donaldson, Morton type changes).

johansantana17
Member
johansantana17

Unfortunately for New York, DJ LeMahieu can’t hit the ball well. He’s had a wRC+ above 94 exactly once in his career.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

I don’t know that either of them can be described as “hit the ball well” compared to Gonzalez. Moustakas is probably the best hitter of the trio, but not by that much compared to, and LeMahieu is easily the worst. Of course, defensively, they’re reversed.

The big issue is mostly that I don’t know how DJLM’s arm will play at third, nor how Moustakas’s mobility will play at 2nd. The might be fine. They might not. Wouldn’t it be nice to know before you throw millions of dollars at a guy?

fjtorres
Member
fjtorres

May be part of the reason teams aren’t as free with their FA millions.

bosoxforlife
Member
Member
bosoxforlife

I have been under the impression that Shaw is going to play second. He wasn’t bad there last year and seems to he has a better body shape for that position than Moustakas.

johansantana17
Member
johansantana17

The team announced Moustakas will play 2B and Shaw will play 3B a few days ago.

fjtorres
Member
fjtorres

Exactly.
It’s the old “if I knew then what I know now”.
Goes both ways: players who reject QOs, teams or players going for second choices because their first choice wasn’t ready to come down…

At this point I’m curious to see what happens with Keuchel now that teams haven’t beaten a path to his door to give him the $25/30M-6/7 year deal he was gunning for.
Somebody might yet get hurt and he might yet get his deal but if not…

dl80
Member
dl80

True, but Kimbrel probably say Jansen’s and Chapman’s 5/$80+million deals and thought that should be his floor.

fjtorres
Member
fjtorres

Kimbrel can say that.
But, has any team agreed to even that?

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

The latest is that Kimbrel’s asking price hasn’t come down and he’s willing to sit out the season, to which I say: No you’re not! You’re not that stupid!

Dave T
Member
Member
Dave T

Sadtrombone – Kimbrel and his agent agree with you that Kimbrel’s not that stupid to sit out the season.

Quote from Kimbrel’s agent, via Ken Rosenthal, replying to the report that you mention:

“The report is wholly inaccurate and Craig looks forward to signing a new contract in the near future. Any report pertaining to his not playing this season is utterly false.” https://mobile.twitter.com/Ken_Rosenthal/status/1099436740761112576

I’m pretty sure the report that you mention was from Jim Bowden, and Kimbrel’s agent shot down the “sitting out the season” part of it within about 3 hours of Bowden saying that might happen.

nathanj
Member
nathanj

For the Brewers perspective, yes, there’s more certainty of Marwin’s future performance at 2b (3000+ innings of below average fielding at 2b, SS and 3b) due to his 2b experience. But since Marwin has been -5 UZR/150 at 2b, wouldn’t you want the better projected bat, and that’s played an infield position at above average? Can the difference between 3b and 2b be so vast that Moose’s fielding performance would be 10 runs worse at 2b?