Gio Gonzalez fired his agent, Scott Boras, yesterday and hired CAA Baseball to represent him going forward. That’s notable, because Gonzalez can trigger the opt-out in his minor league contract with the Yankees today, giving New York 48 hours to either add him to the big league roster or release him back on to the open market. According to Mark Feinsand of MLB Network, Gonzalez does indeed intend to exercise his opt-out and the Yankees — who are full up in the starting rotation — are not believed to be planning on bringing him up to the big leagues.
Gonzalez, as you’ll surely remember, finished last season with the Milwaukee Brewers. He jumped into the rotation down the stretch in September and delivered 25.1 innings of 2.13 ERA baseball during a time when the team was desperate for production in the starting rotation. He made two starts in the playoffs before spraining his ankle and missing the rest of the postseason. That short sample of success wasn’t enough to convince President David Stearns to make an effort to retain Gio, however, and Gonzalez ended up having quite a difficult time finding a job once he hit the open market.
On the whole, Gio produced a 4.21 ERA across 171.0 innings last season between Washington and Milwaukee. That was right around the league average. His FIP of 4.16 was also right around the league’s mid-point; also on-par with likes of Jhoulys Chacin (4.03) and Junior Guerra (4.24) and well ahead of someone like Chase Anderson (5.22). Deserved Run Average rated Gonzalez as 7% more effective than the league-average pitcher overall in 2018; only Wade Miley (92 DRA-) produced a better mark among starting pitchers for the Brewers last year.
Gonzalez has lost some of the zip on his fastball from his heyday, but the 33 year old still thrives at inducing weak contact and generated swinging-strikes right at his career average last year. His floor at this point appears to be something along the lines of a league-average starter, one with a long history of success and durability. ZiPS forecasts a 4.38 ERA for Gio in 2019; PECOTA says 4.51. Those marks, however modest, would be a pretty significant upgrade to the current rotation for our Cream City Nine.
Milwaukee’s group of initial out-getters is clouded with uncertainty right now. Four of the five starters who opened the year in the rotation — Brandon Woodruff (5.23), Freddy Peralta (7.13), Jhoulys Chacin (5.92), and Corbin Burnes (10.70) — have delivered earned run averages over 5.00 so far through four turns. Peralta is now on the injured list and will be replaced for today’s start by Chase Anderson, who has some issues of his own. Burnes was demoted to the minors and looks like he’ll be replaced by a similarly inexperienced pitcher in Adrian Houser for his previously scheduled start on Monday.
Those aren’t exactly comforting options for a team that expects to compete for a World Series this year, one that will likely lose Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas from their vaunted lineup after this season. In retrospect, it looks like Slingin’ Stearns may have miscalculated in not shoring up the depth in his starting rotation during the offseason by trying to retain at least one of Miley, Gio, or Jordan Lyles. The team wanted to go with a youth movement in the starting rotation, but they didn’t insulate themselves from the possible struggles those inexperienced starters may have faced during the season. And now on April 20th, the team is scrambling to keep the pitching staff together.
But it sounds like Stearns and company may get a second chance at bringing in Gio Gonzalez, which is probably something that the front office should strongly consider. Gio’s minor league deal with the Yankees included a pro-rated $3 mil base salary plus incentives; he is likely to seek a similar type of deal if/when he becomes a free agent once again, but with a more solid promise regarding big league starts being available. That’s hardly the type of accord that would break the bank, even for a Brewers team that is currently fielding a record-high payroll. After struggling in his first minor league start after missing most of Spring Training, Gonzalez has allowed only two runs in his last 11.0 innings at Triple-A with 18 strikeouts against 3 walks, throwing as many as 93 pitches in a start. The Brewers are a team in desperate need of some consistent, league-average production from its starting rotation, and Gio Gonzalez appears ready to deliver them for someone.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus