What it would take to lock up Gio Gonzalez

           So I’m on a 7 hour train currently from Vermont to New York and as I’m looking at the corn fields in the distance and the trees as green as you’ll ever see, I said to myself, aren’t those Oakland A’s colors? So I got my laptop and then a thought came in to mind, shouldn’t Gio Gonzalez be at Ricky Romero or Jon Lester status by at least next season or the season after? I sure think so.

With tons of young quality arms in Baseball, you have to expect that eventually a majority of them will get locked up after hitting arbitration at their respective time. Well some pitchers will and should get locked up before they hit arbitration. I’m sure some names that are coming to mind are David Price, Mat Latos, and Tommy Hanson among others. Well my guy is Gio Gonzalez. No, his ERA isn’t as marginal as Bucholz’s or Clayton Kershaw’s, two more young pitchers who will get the big bucks either before they hit arbitration, or when they build up their value even higher.

Obviously, Billy Beane’s plan is starting to turn in to reality as it was a dream in the past. Would I have traded Carlos Gonzalez for what is now Michael Taylor? Absolutely not, but I am a huge fan of plenty of Billy Beane’s other moves. You have to like the Nick Swisher for Gio Gonzalez, Fautino De Los Santos, and Ryan Sweeney deal at the time it was made. Nick Swisher is now hovering around .300 and will probably total up 35 home runs this season, but at the time of the deal, Nick didn’t have his head on straight. Literally, some flaws in his swing caused him to hit anywhere from the low .200’s to maybe .270 during certain times of some seasons. Yes, he did rack up 35 home runs one year in the bay area, but the point is, at the time, acquiring Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Sweeney (two highly touted prospects at the time), and Fautino De Los Santos for a player who again, wasn’t the Nick Swisher we’ve grown to love on the Yankees now.

So Gio, who has obviously found his feel for pitching this season, is really pitching. And I use the word pitching to describe what Gio is really doing. In ’09, his k/9 was 9.1. His ERA in that season was 5.75. So my point is, he’s pitching, meaning he has lowered his strike out rate to throw more strikes and try to get a ground ball or two, hence 127 K’s in 154.0 IP.  Not sure if any of you remember, but Torii Hunter also claimed that Gio Gonzalez had the best curveball in Baseball, and if you watch him pitch, it seriously looks like the ball is attached to his hand the whole way through when he throws the aforementioned 10-4 curveball. Nothing tells me that Gio Gonzalez won’t improve on this season in 2011. So I’d like to compare Gio’s potential contract to Matt Cain’s first contract.

Matt Cain, in the breakout season in which earned him an extension, he pitched 190.2 innings which was worth a 3.5 WAR. Gio so far, after last nights dominant start against the Tribe, has now logged 161.0 IP. Now listen to this, our good friends at ZIPS project that Gio will log 197.0 IP and finish with a tremendous ERA (3.52) for a pitcher in what is really his first full season. His current WAR is at 3.0 so I’m thinking it could reach the 3.5 or at least close to that of the 2006 Matt Cain.

So Matt Cain got 4 years worth $9 Million with a club option, but lets remember that Matt Cain finished with a 4.15 ERA. So even if Gio finishes with a 3.72 (not saying he will) which is 20 points higher than ZIPS projects, isn’t he worth a little more? Plus Gio has logged more career innings than Matt Cain did at the time. So let’s say 4 years at $12MM could work, which would buy out free agent years and if an option was added, it would keep him in the Bay for 5 years. Gio Gonzalez is certainly tempting Billy Beane to at least consider it and in my opinion, this off-season Gio Gonzalez will in fact be locked up.

3 Comments

Good thoughts on Gio and signing him up. Just remember that it’s a two-way street, the player needs to want to stay there too, or get some security or whatnot, else the team can’t sign him up.

It is the tension between security and the two birds in the bush: they want the big money, but if they think that they can do better next season and get even more money, they might want to wait another season to justify that. Or if they think they are going to be really good, they might want to play it year by year to maximize the money they get.

But at some point the multi-year package might be too many $$$ to pass up to get some security.

I would also suggest you read Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster. Most of the data there is for fantasy baseball, but their toolkit for analysis at the front of each annual is a good primer for understanding and evaluating players. You clearly are on the right track, but I think you might be ready for the next steps in evolution and growth.

And if you are on a budget or don’t want the fantasy stuff, they usually sell past annuals for about half price or less for the older ones at their website, baseballhq.com. Any of recent ones will be good enough, they don’t add something breakthrough new each year, though they do have interesting studies every year.

Fangraphs and The Hardball Times is also good.

One final thought to my first comment: Cain got his deal quite a few years back, and inflation in salaries in baseball is much higher than regular inflation. Just by inflation, an equivalent contract would probably be in the $13-15M range, as it has been around 10% annual growth (though great recession might have stalled it one year). So a little more would be $15-18M.

Another big difference is that Cain was doing that when he was much younger than Gio, and in his first season as a pro. Gio has been up and down, struggling to find that consistency. The risk for the A’s is that he might regress in 2011.

I find that Beane has been pretty good in doling out the long-term contracts for prospects like Swisher and Haren, so if they think Gio is worth the risk, they will do that with him too, like Anderson last season.

But his trade record leaves much to be desired, hits like Haren and Mulder is balanced by lousy deals like Hudson and Bradley/Ethier where he got robbed totally.

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