There’s just one guaranteed year on Carlos Gonzalez’s seven-year, $80MM contract, but the Rockies are interested in working out a longer-term pact to keep him in Denver, the outfielder himself tells Venezuelan journalist Wilmer Reina (Twitter link). Gonzalez said that while the Rockies want an extension, there’s still a lot to be negotiated.
Gonzalez, 31, has been with the Rockies since 2009 and established himself as a star there earlier this decade. While he didn’t follow up 2015’s 40-homer campaign with that same type of power, he’s coming off a season in which he batted .298/.350/.505 with 25 home runs and 42 doubles. That OBP was his highest since 2012, though Gonzalez’s walk rate, swinging-strike rate and contact rates all remained worse than the league average in 2016. The improved OBP was driven by a slight dip in strikeouts and a more notable spike in his average on balls in play. Gonzalez’s defense held steady at average to slightly above, in the estimation of metrics like DRS and UZR, though Gonzalez has a more favorable reputation around the game, as he was a Gold Glove finalist in right field this past season.
For the Rockies, though, they have a trio of left-handed-hitting alternatives in the outfield in David Dahl, Charlie Blackmon and Gerardo Parra, although the latter of that group struggled through a terrible first season in Colorado (.253/.271/.399). There’s been some talk of moving Gonzalez to first base, but as MLB.com’s Thomas Harding notes (Twitter links), that thought was due more to recent injuries than to a perceived need to move him for defensive purposes, and it also wasn’t necessarily an immediate plan.
Certainly, with four left-handed-hitting outfielders, it could be argued that Gonzalez is a somewhat superfluous asset for the Rockies, who should look to cash in on the still-productive veteran in a trade. (MLBTR’s Jeff Todd explored this more at length when previewing the Rockies’ offseason.) The Rockies, though, do seem intent on trying to contend in 2017, and Gonzalez is a better option in the outfield than Parra, so hanging onto him would make the team better. Beyond that, the return for a 31-year-old that is owed $20MM in his final year before free agency may not be as robust as many would expect considering Gonzalez’s name value. Considering the flooded corner outfield market, the Rox could feel there’s a chance to get a similar return if they explore a trade in July rather than moving one of their more productive bats before the 2017 season even opens.
Whether pursuing an extension is wise, of course, is entirely dependent on the price. Gonzalez would be 32 in the first season of a theoretical deal, and his bat is likelier to either continue at its solid-but-elite 2016 pace or to decline than it is to return to the form he showed in his mid-20s from 2010-13. Likewise, his defense figures to deteriorate a bit as he progresses into his mid-30s. For a team whose payroll is on the rise but still doesn’t compare to the most aggressive-spending clubs in the game, a misstep on an extension — even one for a player that is one of the faces of the franchise — would be a significant burden.
Certainly, with current holes at catcher, first base and in the bullpen (plus opportunities to add some rotation depth), an extension for Gonzalez wouldn’t seem like an immediate priority for GM Jeff Bridich and his staff. And while Gonzalez has voiced an openness to an extension quite recently due to the team’s improved play in 2016, today’s comments don’t make it sound like talks have progressed very far — if they’ve even begun at all. It seems likelier that an extension would be pursued later this winter, after some more of the club’s offseason shopping has been completed and after the team’s arbitration cases have been settled.